South African prosecutors have issued an arrest warrant for Zimbabwe’s ex-first lady, Grace Mugabe, for allegedly assaulting a model in 2017, police say.
Gabriella Engels accused Mugabe of beating the “hell out” of her with an electrical extension cord in a room at the Capital 20 West hotel in Johannesburg’s Sandton district. After the alleged assault came to light in August 2017, the South African government granted Mugabe diplomatic immunity. That immunity was overturned by a court this year after Engels, a model, challenged the decision.
“I can confirm that a warrant for the arrest of Grace Mugabe was issued last Thursday,” said Vishnu Naidoo, a spokesman for South Africa’s police service. He said police were seeking Interpol’s help to enforce the warrant.
There was no immediate comment from Grace Mugabe.
The two countries have an extradition agreement, but Zimbabwe’s deputy minister for information, Energy Mutodi, told Reuters that Harare would not extradite Mugabe.
“I believe the government of Zimbabwe will not tolerate any harassment or degrading treatment on the former president Mugabe and his immediate family members,” Mutodi said, adding that he would need to consult with President Emmerson Mnangagwa on a final decision.
Grace Mugabe, 53, was seen as a potential successor to her 94-year-old husband, Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe from 1980 until he was ousted in a coup late last year.
She has denied assaulting Engels with an extension cord, saying an “intoxicated and unhinged” Engels attacked her with a knife after going to see the Mugabe’s sons at the hotel. The South African advocacy group AfriForum, which represented Engels, has accused Mugabe of lying.
What happened in Johannesburg?
The alleged assault took place in August 2017 after Mrs Mugabe found Ms Engels with her two sons, Robert and Chatunga, in a hotel room in Sandton, a wealthy suburb in the city’s north.
The then first lady was in South Africa to be treated for an ankle injury, Zimbabwean media reported.
Ms Engels released an image of a head injury online. “When Grace entered I had no idea who she was,” she told South African’s News24 at the time.
“She walked in with an extension cord and just started beating me with it. She flipped and just kept beating me with the plug. Over and over. I had no idea what was going on. I needed to crawl out of the room before I could run away.”
She added: “There was blood everywhere. Over my arms, in my hair, everywhere.”
The South African Police Service (Saps) investigated the alleged assault but the foreign minister at the time, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, granted Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity, allowing her to leave the country without answering questions. That immunity was annulled in July.
Representatives of Mugabe have said Engels was the aggressor in the altercation.
The warrant means should the former first lady – sometimes dubbed “Gucci Grace” for her lavish lifestyle – now enter South Africa she will be arrested.
AfriForum, a South African group that represented Engels, said the court ruling allowed police to proceed with an investigation.
“We believe that this sends out a strong message that nobody is above the law, not even if your surname is Mugabe,” said Kallie Kriel, the group’s CEO.