Grace Mugabe: Gerrie Nel to assist Gabriella Engels - AfriForum

No one, not even the Zimbabwean first lady, must be allowed to bypass the law as a result of their position of power

Adv. Nel, AfriForum support Mugabe victim

The civil rights watchdog AfriForum and Adv. Gerrie Nel, Head of the organisation’s Private Prosecuting Unit, today announced at a media conference that they would support Miss Gabriella Engels to see that justice prevails in the assault charge that Miss Engels had brought against Mrs Grace Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s First Lady. 

The support entails among other that Adv. Nel will monitor the handling of the case by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), as well as the implementation of private prosecution should the NPA fail to prosecute Mrs Mugabe without good cause. Should diplomatic immunity be granted to Mrs Mugabe, AfriForum is prepared to fight this in the highest court. AfriForum’s Trauma Unit will also provide Miss Engels with support to help process the trauma of the assault. 

Miss Engels, who was also present at AfriForum’s media conference, says that she is grateful that Adv. Nel and AfriForum support her. “One feels powerless if you are the victim of violence by a person like Mrs Mugabe, who occupies a position of power. It is comforting that people like Adv. Nel and AfriForum is prepared to see to it that justice prevails.” 

Kallie Kriel, CEO of AfriForum, says that it is an honour for his organisation to support someone like Miss Engels because she is prepared to take a stand for justice despite enormous pressure.

Adv. Nel says that the Private Prosecuting Unit was established precisely to help see to it that there is equality before the law. “No one, not even Mrs Grace Mugabe, must be allowed to bypass the law as a result of their position of power,” Nel adds. According to Nel, he will also direct letters to the SAPS and the NPA to request them to take the matter further as soon as possible. "If they fail to do so, there is a sure possibility of private prosecution,” Nel says.

Willie Spies, AfriForum’s legal representative, indicates that he has already directed a letter to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in which he pointed out that no good reason exists to grant Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity. “If the Department continues to grant Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity, such a decision would be an administrative action that can be reviewed by a court on the grounds of irrationality. AfriForum will take the case to the highest court if necessary,” Spies says.  

Caty van der Merwe, the Operational Manager of AfriForum’s Trauma Unit, says that victims of violent crimes are subject to enormous trauma. “The more so if the attacker occupies a position of power, leaving the victim more vulnerable. AfriForum’s Trauma Unit will provide the necessary support to Miss Engels to process the event,” Van der Merwe says.


Text of the letter:


17 August 2017

The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation 460 Soutpansberg Road

Rietondale Pretoria, 0084

Private Bag X152 Pretoria, 0001

Attention: Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

Dear Minister Nkoana-Mashabane,


We are acting on behalf of AfriForum, a civil rights initiative committed to the promotion of the rule of law, human rights and good governance.

1. Our client has been approached by a victim of a serious assault which was allegedly committed by the wife of the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Mrs. Grace Mugabe.

2.  Our instructions are as follows:

a. Mrs. Mugabe was in South Africa on a private, business and medical visit;

b. The victim of the assault incident was in the same hotel, but in the adjacent room to that of Mrs. Mugabe’s two sons, with a mutual friend;

c. During an interaction between the parties, Mrs. Mugabe approached the victim and physically assaulted the victim making use of an electrical extension cord and inflicted serious injuries to the victim;

d. At the time of the incident, Mrs. Mugabe was accompanied by as many as ten bodyguards and two security officials from the hotel, but none of the bodyguards made any effort to assist the victim or to protect her from the assault, in fact they oversaw the entire incident;

e.  The victim was approached via a third party on Tuesday evening, 15 August 2017, by a person alleging to represent the Mugabe family suggesting that she should “come up with a figure so that parties could meet in order to settle the matter quietly”. The victim however refused the offer.

3.  Our instructions are that a prima facie crime of assault with the intention to cause grievous bodily harm is evident from the facts, not only with regard to Mrs. Mugabe but also with regard to the bodyguards who accompanied her and displayed common purpose with the crime committed. This is a grave crime in terms of Sec 2(2)(a) and (b) of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act 37 of 2001. We remind you that not even a foreign head of state enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of South African courts in proceedings relating to injury of any person [Sec 6(a) of the Foreign States Immunities Act 87 of 1981 read with Sec 1(2)(a)].

4. Our instructions are that the Department of International Relations and Cooperation has been tasked to consider the granting of diplomatic immunity in the circumstances involved. We understand that a request to this effect is being considered by your department at this moment.

5. We are of the view that the granting of diplomatic immunity in these circumstances would be inappropriate and irrational due to the following reasons:

a. Mrs. Mugabe was not in South Africa on any official visit. Her visit to South Africa was for business purposes and medical reasons;

b. The reported allegation that Mrs. Mugabe will attend the imminent conference of SADC leaders in Pretoria together with her husband, was an afterthought designed entirely to frustrate the criminal process and to abuse the principles of diplomatic immunity;

c. Diplomatic immunity cannot be used as a shield to escape prosecution in instances where serious criminal acts were committed.

6. With the above in mind we hereby demand that this letter be considered with due consideration to the relevant principles of law before any decision is made to grant Mrs Mugabe diplomatic immunity.

7. We also request, in accordance with the provisions of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, 2000 that our clients and the victim of the crime incident be notified forthwith of the reasons for your decision, once made, regardless of the outcome thereof and that our address is used as address for furnishing such written reasons.

8. Your urgent consideration shall be appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Willie Spies


Issued by AfriForum, 17 August 2017