Grace Mugabe’s prosecution immunity an abuse of law – DA lawyer
THE decision by former international relations and co-operation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to grant former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe immunity against prosecution was an abuse of law.
Nkoana- Mashabane made a decision which was legally and ordinarily supposed to be made by judges in South African courts.
This was the hard-hitting argument of DA’s legal counsel advocate Anton Katz SC, during the second day of the hearing of the application by the DA and AfriForum to set aside the spousal immunity granted to Mugabe on August 19 last year.
Yesterday, Advocate Hilton Epstein SC – counsel for the Department of International Relations – told the court Mugabe’s immunity had since ceased to exist because her husband, former president Robert Mugabe, was removed from office last year.
The department said any legal action based on events which took place in a hotel in Sandton, Joburg, during which Grace Mugabe allegedly assaulted Gabriella Engels “was moot”.
Mugabe allegedly accosted Engels while she was in the company of Mugabe’s teenage sons in the hotel and assaulted her while the sons fled the scene on August 10, 2017.
Engels laid criminal charges against her on the same day, but three days later the Zimbabwean Embassy approached Nkoana- Mashabane to invoke diplomatic immunity.
The court earlier heard that Nkoana-Mashabane only “conferred the immunity” six days later after the then-acting police commissioner Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba had informed her that there was a prima facie case against Mugabe, warranting her prosecution.
At the time of the alleged attack Mugabe, originally from Benoni in Gauteng, was accompanying her husband to the SADC summit in the country.
According to evidence heard in court, Nkoana-Mashabane took a decision to grant spousal immunity to Mugabe because the police were on the verge of arresting her for assault with aggravating circumstances.
Nkoana-Mashabane apparently told Mothiba she did not want to strain South Africa’s relations with Zimbabwe and other African states. She also did not want the SADC summit to collapse and descend into chaos.
Katz said the minister’s decision “was wrong”.
“The police should have charged Grace Mugabe and hauled her before a court of law. It should have then be the responsibility of the Zimbabwean Embassy to approach the court and to invoke Grace’s spousal immunity.
“It would then be up to the judges to make a decision if Grace had indeed such an immunity.
“If the judges find that Grace had qualified for immunity, the court would then approach the minister (of foreign affairs) to confer the immunity,” Katz said.
Advocate Etienne Labus- chagne, acting for AfriForum, also lambasted the former minister’s decision, saying she had acted contrary to international law.
Labuschagne said the Foreign Heads of State Immunity Act does not grant immunity against heads of state who have committed criminal acts which caused a death or serious injury of a person.
Like Katz, Labuschagne’s argued the state acted in the interest of Grace rather than its own citizen – Engels – whose rights had been violated through the alleged assault.
Judge Bashier Vally reserved judgment.