SOUTH African authorities Sunday admitted they allowed President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace to escape assault charges in efforts to save Pretoria’s diplomatic relations with Harare and to avoid the matter casting a cloud over the SADC Summit which they were hosting.
Grace was holed up in Johannesburg for a full week amid clamours for her prosecution over her violent attack on a 20 year-old woman widely reported to be friends with her two sons.
The Mugabe brothers are pursuing studies in South Africa.
Grace, who has not yet publicly spoken about the embarrassing incident, finally returned home in President Mugabe’s company after she was granted diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
The Zimbabwean leader was in the southern neighbour for the regional summit.
However, with Grace now in safer territory, South Africa’s international relations department released a statement defending its controversial decision to let Zimbabwe’s under fire first lady go scot free.
According to the department, the decision followed lobbying by the Zimbabwean embassy in South Africa for Grace to be granted immunity.
“The Minister considered the communication from the Embassy in accordance with the discretion granted to her by section 7(2) of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act,” read a statement posted on the department’s website.
The law, according to the statement, gives authorities leeway to confer immunity to offenders on South African territory “in the interest of the Republic”.
“After careful consideration of all the relevant factors, including the following; the need to uphold the rule of law, ensure fair administration of justice and uphold the rights of the complainant,” read the statement.
Pretoria said the decision was informed by “the imperative to maintain good inter-governmental relations within the SADC region, and in particular between the Republic of South Africa and the Republic of Zimbabwe; the fact that the matter coincides with South Africa’s hosting of the 37th SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government”.
Grace escaped arrest also because of “legal considerations, including derivative immunity of spouses of Heads of State”.
“The Minister has made the determination that the conferring of diplomatic immunity is warranted in this particular instance,” further read the statement.
“The Department wishes to convey the message that the Minister has agonised over this matter and the decision was not an easy one to make.”
Zimbabweans, both locally based and those based abroad, had joined South Africans in demanding Grace’s arrest after the controversial first lady has continued to act above the law apparently with no consequences against her.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his predecessor Joice Mujuru, villagers at a Mazowe farm and recently a Lebanese diamond dealer have all been Grace’s victims in one way or another.
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