Grace Mugabes can’t buy justice, says Gabriella Engels’ mother

Debbie Engels (left) and her daughter Gabriella Engels, who claims that she was assaulted by Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe. Picture: Hitekani Magwedze/EWN
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Pretoria – The family of Johannesburg model Gabriella Engels who made headlines in 2017 after laying assault charges against Zimbabwe’s then first lady Grace Mugabe, on Friday said they will continue to press for charges, and not money.

Speaking to the African News Agency (ANA) at the High Court in Pretoria, Gabriella’s mother Debbie said a cash amount had been made available by the Mugabes, but that that option will never be considered.

“You can’t buy justice. You cannot just give a sum of money and my daughter is supposed to heal and just accept. At the end of the day, my daughter still doesn’t know why this woman [Grace Mugabe] came and attacked her from nowhere,” said Debbie.

“All the stories that have been circulating, that my daughter attacked Grace, it is utter lies. There are witnesses that were in the room. They say this woman just barged into the room and hit her [Gabriella]. We want to know why she did that.”

Debbie went on, insisting that the financial offer will not silence her family.

“You can’t put a child through trauma and then come and just give her a certain amount of money, expecting that child to go on with her life. The trauma must be washed away with money? That’s not how it works. My child needs that closure,” said Debbie.

“She [Gabriella] needs to hear from Grace Mugabe as to why she did what she did so that my daughter can heal.”

Debbie vowed that her family, now represented by civil rights group AfriForum, will explore every avenue to ensure that Grace Mugabe has her day in court.

“We will definitely be continuing with the criminal case. At the end of the day, all we want is for Grace Mugabe to come stand in the dock. She must come answer as to why she attacked my daughter in the first place,” said Debbie.

She said if, in the end, the swanky Zimbabwe’s former first lady gets sentenced for the assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm charge opened by Gabriella last year, “it will be a bonus”.

Earlier on Friday, the High Court in Pretoria on Friday reserved judgement in the Democratic Alliance’s application to have diplomatic immunity granted to Grace Mugabe set aside.

“Thank you everybody for your time, judgment will be reserved. You will get a written judgment in due course. When? I don’t know,” said Judge Bashier Vally after the second day of arguments between the DA, joined by AfriForum, and on the other side the minister of international relations and cooperation.

“You will get it  hopefully soon … I don’t know. I’m not committing myself to any specific time  but you will get a written judgement.

The judge also extended  gratitude to different parties who had joined the case as “amicus curiae” to assist the court.

On Thursday, Advocate Hilton Epstein, SC representing the department of international relations and cooperation argued that the South African government did not grant diplomatic immunity to Mugabe, but only recognised it after the 2017 assault charge.

Epstein argued that Pretoria had not conferred the diplomatic standing, but that the department of international relations and cooperation had only upheld the fact of existing immunity for then Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe’s spouse.

“I submit the following — it is clear this was happening over a short period of time. The department of foreign affairs [international relations] department was dealing with this urgently, the conference [Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit] was taking place, heads of state were here and the minister was faced with the complaint and sought advice,” said Epstein.

“She sought for advice from the legal advisors. She got advice from the legal advisors. Ultimately there is one factor here, it’s not a discretion, it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact which is whether spousal immunity exists or does not exist.”

He said the then international relations and cooperation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane did the right thing by “recognising” Mrs Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity.

African News Agency/ANA