In a surprising turn of events, the Zimbabwe Embassy yesterday said it would withdraw from the legal process started by model Gabriella Engels to have the diplomatic immunity granted to Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe for the assault on Engels set aside.
Engels, assisted by AfriForum, applied to the High Court in Pretoria for an order allowing them to institute proceedings and serve papers on the First Lady in a bid to have the diplomatic immunity granted to her by the South African government on 19 August set aside.
Engels laid an assault charge against Mugabe after she was attacked with an electrical extension cord after Mugabe found Engels with her two sons in a Sandton hotel room.
Mugabe was allowed to leave the country after International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane granted her diplomatic immunity, but AfriForum maintained she was in South Africa on private and not government business and the decision to grant her immunity was irrational.
Acting Judge Harshila Kooevertjie this morning referred the application by Engels to the opposed motion roll and gave the Zimbabwean embassy time to file papers setting out whether it had a mandate from Grace Mugabe to represent her in respect of the proceedings and on what basis it had a right to intervene in the proceedings.
Minutes after she granted the order, the advocate representing the Zimbabwean embassy, Sandra Chitando said although he still felt the embassy’s intervention in the matter had been justified, he had received instructions from the Zimbabwean consul general to no longer participate in the proceedings.
He said the Zimbabwean consul general had personally seen “various threats made against our representative from the Zimbabwean embassy”.
“The conduct of various individuals in this matter has made the Zimbabwean embassy’s further involvement undesirable,” he said.
Engels’ legal representative Willie Spies said he knew nothing about any threats made against Chitando, but if it was true, it should be investigated.
However, he said the Zimbabwe embassy did not have the legal right to intervene in what was basically a procedural application and was of the view that their intervention had merely been a delaying tactic aimed at frustrating the process.
He said they fully intended to proceed with their application as soon as possible, with the eventual aim of setting aside Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity so that she could face criminal charges for assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm and civil proceedings for damages.
Engel’s mother Debbie earlier described alleged allegations by Grace Mugabe that Engels was the aggressor and had attacked her as a pathetic attempt by the First Lady to get herself out to trouble.
She said her daughter struggled to get on with her life and her modeling career back on track and her life has never been the same since the incident as she had to be careful where she was going.