Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane quietly granted Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity on Saturday, potentially opening up the second legal can of worms for the country in as many years.

A parliamentary inquiry into the circumstances in which it happened is likely.

SA is engaged in the delicate legal process of extricating itself from the International Criminal Court following the country’s failure to detain Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in June 2015.

That landed the government in several courts in SA, with one after the other ruling against it and condemning its failure to honour its obligations as a signatory to the Rome Statute, domesticated as an act of Parliament.

The International Criminal Court ruled in July that SA had erred in failing to arrest al-Bashir, but did not refer SA to the Assembly of States Parties or the UN Security Council.

Nkoana-Mashabane signed a proclamation recognising the immunities and privileges of Mugabe in terms of the Diplomatic Immunities Act "in the interest of the country", her department said.

She had considered "the need to uphold the rule of law to ensure fair administration of justice and uphold the rights of the complainant" when granting immunity to Mugabe, a statement on Sunday read.

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula issued a red alert earlier in the week against Mugabe for her alleged assault of 20-year-old Gabriella Engels.

Engels has filed a complaint with the police and is being represented by AfriForum’s advocate Gerrie Nel.

Zimbabwean media reported on Sunday morning that Mugabe had made it back home with her husband in tow.

Ottilia Maunganidze, an expert on the African Court of Justice and Human Rights at the Institute for Security Studies, said upholding the rule of law was not a defence that could be made in Mugabe’s case.

Recognising the rule of law would have meant that Mugabe was charged.

"[This case] … sends the wrong message that ordinary citizens face the full might of the law, while high-profile individuals can simply invoke diplomatic immunity and get away with ‘murder’," she said.

Nkoana-Mashabane also cited the need to maintain good relations in the Southern African Development Community, particularly with Zimbabwe, in granting Mugabe immunity.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said his party would demand an immediate parliamentary inquiry into the government’s complicity in letting Mugabe to flee in the dead of night to avoid prosecution.

gumedem@businesslive.co.za

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