South Africa remains silent as Grace leaves country

The wife of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe returned home from South Africa on Sunday despite calls that she be prosecuted for allegedly assaulting a young model at a luxury hotel in Johannesburg.

A report by Zimbabwean state broadcaster ZBC showed Grace Mugabe greeting government and military officials at the Harare airport after returning on an Air Zimbabwe flight with her husband, who had attended a summit of southern African leaders in Pretoria.

The South African government said on Saturday it was deciding whether to grant diplomatic immunity to Grace Mugabe at the request of the Zimbabwean government. There was no immediate comment from South African authorities on Sunday.

South African police had issued a “red alert” at borders to ensure she didn’t leave undetected, and said they were waiting for a government decision on the immunity appeal.

Speaking from Johannesburg, Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa said there has been “silence from the government”.

“People are waiting for an official comment from the government as to why she was allowed to leave,” Mutasa said.

Gabriella Engels, a 20-year-old model, said Zimbabwe’s first lady attacked her on August 13, whipping her with an extension cord that cut her forehead.

A group representing Engels said they will go to court to challenge the South African government, if it is confirmed that immunity was granted to Mugabe.

“We will take a long-term approach on this,” said Willie Spies, a legal representative at AfriForum, an organisation that primarily represents South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority.

“She may be back in Zimbabwe, but it may mean that she will find it very difficult to come back to South Africa in the future,” Spies said.

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Political analyst Ayesha Kajee said if the first lady was arrested, political fallout between the two countries could ensue.

“Those countries that have traditionally been supportive of Zimbabwe would lambast South Africa for arresting Mrs Mugabe and prosecuting her,” Kajee told.

The Zimbabwean president’s outspoken wife has been criticised for a fiery temper and lavish shopping expeditions, but her rising political profile has some asking whether she is manoeuvring to succeed her husband.

She recently said Zimbabwe’s ruling party should restore a provision in its constitution stating one of the party’s vice presidents should be a woman, and has publicly challenged her 93-year-old husband to name a successor.

President Mugabe is expected to preside at a state funeral for a former minister in Harare on Sunday. It was unclear whether his wife will attend.