Even though she has diplomatic immunity for now, Grace Mugabe won’t be able to breathe easily for the next 20 years because her South African assault charge will still be hanging over her head.
Legal experts say the Zimbabwe first lady may not always enjoy diplomatic immunity – for example, after her husband ceases to be Zimbabwe president – and South African law stipulates that the right to bring a prosecution for a serious crime like assault does not fall away for 20 years.
There is also another legal problem for Grace: her citizenship status is in doubt because she is a South African citizen by birth, a right that cannot be revoked. That being the case, she should not have been granted diplomatic immunity in the first place by the South African government.
Law expert Gerhard Kemp wrote in The Conversation that Mugabe’s immunity was not necessarily a “get-out-of-jail” ticket.
“The right to institute a prosecution for most crimes [including assault] lapses only after 20 years. There are exceptions.
“This right never lapses in the case of serious offences such as murder, rape, robbery with aggravated circumstances, and the atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.
“It’s conceivable that a person who once enjoyed diplomatic immunity, but who no longer benefits from it, will face justice at some future date. “This assumes that they find themselves back in the country in which the alleged crime took place.”
AfriForum’s legal team was looking into the citizenship of Grace in their ongoing bid to challenge her diplomatic immunity.
It was unclear whether Grace, accused of beating a woman at her son’s hotel room in Sandton this month, had dual citizenship as she only moved to Zimbabwe in the 1970s where she later married another Zimbabwean politician before marrying current president Robert Mugabe.
“We are considering our options in relation to this,” said AfriForum attorney Willie Spies, who was in the process of drafting papers challenging Grace’s immunity. “We need to look at the legal position. Under apartheid, black people did not become citizens by birth.”
Grace was born to Zimbabwean parents in Benoni in 1965. The department of international relations and cooporation (Dirco) granted Grace diplomatic immunity days after she allegedly committed the assault and she was allowed to leave the country.
The move baffled experts because she was not in the country at the time for diplomatic purposes and was not accompanying a diplomat.