Zim first lady flees SA in wake of assault claim

Reuters

Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe File picture: Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters

Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, returned home yesterday from South Africa after failing to turn herself in to police in Johannesburg to face charges of assaulting a model in a hotel room.

There was no immediate public comment on the case from Grace, 52.

But Zimbabwe government sources confirmed she had returned home.

“Yes, she is back in the country,” a senior government official, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said.

“We don’t know where this issue of assault charges is coming from.”

A second official also confirmed

Grace had returned, saying “she is around now”, and accused the media of a plot to tarnish the first family’s name.

Earlier, South African police had been negotiating with Grace’s lawyers to get her to turn herself in to face charges of assault, a senior police source said.

Gabriella Engels, 20, was allegedly attacked by Grace after the model had gone to see the Mugabes’ sons, Robert and Chatunga, at a hotel in Johannesburg’s upmarket Sandton district on Sunday.

Confusion surrounded the case yesterday. Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said early in the day that Grace had already handed herself in to police and would appear in court shortly.

But in the afternoon, the magistrate’s court where she had been expected to be formally charged closed for the day without her appearing.

The police source said Grace had earlier agreed to hand herself over at 10am, but failed to do so. The source said police were investigating a charge of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Asked if Grace was now considered a fugitive, the source said that was not the case at this stage.

Grace’s close ally and Zimbabwe’s Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo tweeted: “One cannot be a fugitive for not appearing at a court to which they have not been summoned and when they have not been charged with any crime!”

Grace had reportedly been in the country to have an injured foot examined.

A Zimbabwean intelligence source said Grace had been travelling on an ordinary non-diplomatic passport and was in South Africa on personal business.

The News24 website quoted Engels’ version of events in the hotel room.

“When Grace entered, I had no idea who she was. She walked in with an extension cord and just started beating me with it,” the model alleged.

“She flipped and just kept beating me with the plug. Over and over.

“I had no idea what was going on. I was surprised … I needed to crawl out of the room before I could run away.”

News24 published a picture of what it said was Engels with a large gash in her forehead.

“I am a model – with this scar over my face, my whole career is ruined,” she said.

It was unclear what triggered the incident.

“I just want justice,” Engels told Talk Radio 702.

“She just completely lost it.”

Mugabe’s two sons were kicked out of the Regent luxury apartment complex in Sandton last month after an incident in the middle of the night, staff at the complex said.

Regent manager Imelda Fincham did not elaborate but confirmed the pair had left.

“They’re no longer here,” she said.

In 2009, a newspaper photographer in Hong Kong said Grace and her bodyguard had assaulted him.

Police there said the incident was reported but that no charges were brought.

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