NEWS

The Assault Case Against Grace Mugabe Is A Diplomatic Crisis -- Experts

"The consequences are just too big for the country."

17/08/2017 13:55 SAST | Updated 17/08/2017 14:26 SAST
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Photo: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The assault case against Zimbabawe's first lady, Grace Mugabe, needs to be handled with care because it could have disastrous implications for relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe, two experts said on Thursday.

"It's not a simple criminality on the streets of Johannesburg [case], so to reduce it to that would be to burying our heads in the sand, the consequences are just too big for the country," said Wits University's International Relations lecturer, Dr Mopeli Moshoeshoe.

He said the matter needed be handled with discretion as it was a sensitive diplomatic issue.

He stressed that if diplomatic immunity was not granted to Mugabe, it could "spoil relations" between the two governments.

"It would be interpreted somehow in Zimbabwe,...It would be seen in a negative light".

"If they pull the diplomatic card she will win and this shows the wealth of the political elite in Zimbabwe and how Grace has semi-control of Zimbabwe."Theo Venter

Political and policy specialist at the North West University, Theo Venter, said the case was slowly developing into a diplomatic crisis, and that the notorious first lady will be given special treatment because of her position.

"If they pull the diplomatic card, she will win and this shows the wealth of the political elite in Zimbabwe and how Grace has semi-control of Zimbabwe," Venter told HuffPost SA.

Mugabe is alleged to have assaulted 20-year-old model Gabriella Engels with an extension cord in her son's hotel room in Sandton at the weekend. Since the incident came to light, there have been conflicting media reports Mugabe's whereabouts.

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula confirmed that charges had been laid against Mugabe on Tuesday. He justified that Mugabe was not arrested because she had co-operated with police so far.

Venter compared the incident to that of Somalian president Omar Al-Bashir.

The international Criminal Court issued two warrants of arrest for Al-Bashir between 2009 and 2010 for war crimes crimes against humanity and genocide in connection with the widespread violence in Darfur, western Sudan.

South Africa had failed to co-operate with International Criminal Court (ICC) and was found guilty of not arresting Al-Bashir when he visited the country in 2015.

Relations between SA and Zim
According to the department of international relations (Dirco), South Africa's main export to Zimbabwe are capital equipments, and its main imports from Zimbabwe are textiles and agricultural produce.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki said he was optimistic the alleged assault would not affect the relationship between the two African countries.

"I don't know much about the case but it really shouldn't affect our relationship with Zimbabwe," he told News24.

Dirco on its website says the Zimbabwe people had played an important historical role in support of the liberation struggle in South Africa against the system of apartheid.

However, Moshoeshoe recalled that relations between South Africa and Zimbabwe had been turbulent in the past. He said South Africa was seen as an isolated State during the apartheid era.

"They [the apartheid government] had [a] very aggressive policy and [was] seen as the enemy towards all other Southern African countries, so the relations were not cordial at all," said Moshoeshoe.

He referred to 2013 when Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was elected chairman of the Southern African Development Committee(SADC). Moshoeshoe said South African delegates who were part of the committee had been referred to as "difficult" by the controversial Zimbabwean leader.

Despite its past, Moshoeshoe noted that ties had strengthened between South Africa and Zimbabwe in recent times. In 2015, Mugabe [president] arrived for his first State visit to South Africa since 1994. Five agreements were signed to promote bilateral relations between both countries.