Former international relations and cooperation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has been accused of deliberately misinterpreting international law to stop then Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe from facing criminal prosecution in South Africa.
Legal argument was today presented in the High Court in Pretoria, where the Democratic Alliance (DA) and AfriForum asked the court to set aside Mashabane’s decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Mugabe.
This followed an incident in August last year when the then first lady allegedly stormed into a Sandton hotel room and assaulted South African model Gabriella Engelbrecht – who was in the company of Mugabe’s sons – with an extension cord.
Freedom Under Law, the Commission of Gender Equality and the Woman’s Legal Centre Trust have also submitted legal argument in the matter as friends of the court.
Etienne Labuschagne SC, for Engels and AfriForum, argued that Engels had laid a criminal charge against Mugabe, but could not proceed with the criminal case unless the court set aside Mugabe’s immunity.
Judge Bashir Vally wanted to know if Mugabe’s immunity had not lapsed once her husband, Robert Mugabe, was no longer in office as Zimbabwe’s president, and if this did not render the issue before court moot.
Labschagne argued that it did not, as his client wanted the court to decide on the issue and either declare that Mugabe never had immunity in the first place, or that if she had immunity, it had lapsed and that her criminal prosecution could proceed.
Labuschagne and Anton Katz SC, for the DA, both argued that the international relations minister had misinterpreted international law and treaties, which did not grant immunity to the spouses of heads of state.
Katz argued that the retrospective decision was unreasonable, constituted an irrational abuse of statutory power, violated the rule of law and should be set aside as unconstitutional.
The minister denied granting immunity to the former first lady, but insisted that she was under an obligation in terms of international law to recognise Mugabe’s immunity.
Karrisha Pillay, for the Woman’s Legal Centre Trust, argued that the consequence of the minister’s decision crated an unjustified hierarchy of who was or was not prosecuted for violent acts in South Africa, which violated the right to be free from all violent acts guaranteed by the Constitution.
Engelbrecht told reporters she hoped Mugabe came back to South Africa to account for what she did and was happy that the ball was finally rolling, but left everything in God’s hands.
The application continues.