Grace Mugabe: Zimbabwe’s fiercely loyal first lady

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The wife of President Robert Mugabe has claimed diplomatic immunity after being accused of assaulting a South African model. Many Zimbabweans have condemned her behavior.

South African police said on Wednesday that Grace Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first lady, has requested diplomatic immunity over an allegation that she assaulted a young model in Johannesburg. The incident happened at a hotel where Mugabe’s two sons were staying.

The police also confirmed that she is still in South Africa after a day of intense speculation over her whereabouts. “The suspect’s lawyers and government have invoked diplomatic immunity cover,” South African police said in a statement, adding that the Zimbabwe authorities had dispatched a diplomatic note verbale to South Africa’s department of international relations.

Meanwhile, many Zimbabweans are upset about the conduct of their first lady. “I think it was not fair. As a mother, she should have dealt with her kids,” Sandra Madzinyenga, a mother of four boys, told DW. Another Harare resident said she thought the first lady had a mental problem. “She is crazy. I don’t think she is in her normal senses right now,” Vannessa Samuriwo added.

Political analyst Wilf MBanga said Mrs. Mugabe’s behavior was a disgrace to Zimbabwe. “She has been doing this for some time, and I don’t think she’s going to change simply because Zimbabweans are upset for her behavior,” Mbanga told DW.Model Gabriella Engels shows the wound on her head (picture-alliance/dpa/AP/Debbie Engels)

Gabriella Engels said she had been attacked with an electrical extension cord

The assault case in South Africa is not the only incident the first lady has been involved in. In 2009, she allegedly beat a British photographer in Hong Kong for taking pictures of her at a luxury hotel. In July Mrs. Mugabe verbally attacked the presidential spokesman George Charamba whom she accused of writing “useless” articles and of supporting a rival faction angling to take over from President Mugabe.

President remains silent

Meanwhile, the country’s president Robert Mugabe has not spoken with regard to the alleged incident. Mbanga said he was expecting the head of state to break his silence. “If my wife was going around beating people, I would have a few words with her,” Mbanga commented. He added that he did not expect the incident in South Africa to cause any diplomatic problems between the two countries. “President Mugabe and President Jacob Zuma are very close, and there’s no way the South African authorities would have let her free without any connivance.”

South African media earlier reported that President Mugabe was expected to fly to South Africa to support his wife. Political analyst Joy Mabenge said the Zimbabwean head of state should go to rebuke his wife. “We as a people would like President Mugabe to pronounce a word strongly against his wife to set an example,” Mabenge told DW.

“[Grace] is not the character that you would want near state power because she would abuse it and citizens would suffer,” Mabenge said, adding, “it also shows that she’s not fit to be the first lady or to be entrusted with any authority of any nature.”

The incident comes at a time that Zimbabwe is deeply divided over who should succeed President Mugabe. One faction supports Grace while another favors Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is currently recovering in a South African hospital after he fell ill and was airlifted from Zimbabwe.

Columbus Mavhunga in Harare contributed to this report