Why we couldn’t prosecute Grace Mugabe

Grace Mugabe has officially been granted diplomatic immunity after her alleged assault on 20-year-old model Gabriella Engels.

She has now returned to Zimbabwe with President Robert Mugabe after the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Summit.

This raised many questions into how The Department of International Relations (Dirco) could grant the Zimbabwean first lady diplomatic immunity.

International criminal law expert, Ottilia Maunganidza, helps us decipher Dirco's decision.

READ: Grace Mugabe immunity: SA between ‘rock & hard place’

One of the biggest question to arise from Dirco Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane minutes declaring the diplomatic immunity was the fact that no specific date was given to indicate when the immunity starts.

Maunganidza says that official Government Gazette on the matter will give more clarity when it is released. However, Maunganidza says that from the minutes one can speculate when Mugabe's immunity began.

If the notice backdates to when the first lady arrived in South Africa in mid July, it would mean the immunity covers the incident. If it only covers when SADC Summit immunity period was, it means the immunity was granted just so she could leave the country.

Ottilia Maunganidza, International criminal law expert

Maunganidza says that since the alleged assault occurred before the SADC Summit or it pre-events, granting Mugabe immunity for that time raises issues into the scope of the immunity and whether it leave the door open for future prosecutions.

One of the considerations that were given in Dirco's notice was that of derivative immunity. Maunganidza explains that derivative immunity refers to people like diplomats, or in this case the First Lady of Zimbabwe, getting immunity based on their status and relationship to the primary immunity holder - the president.

Read: Government has failed us - mother of Gabriella Engels

From a criminal prosecution point of view, unless we see that immunity was just for the SADC Summit or whatever the case may be, it means that she is immune from prosecution if it covers the date of the assault.

Ottilia Maunganidza, International criminal law expert

Maunganidza says that there are different types of immunity which have to be clarified. She add that these can be contested.

For the Engels family, Maunganidza advises that further action against Mugabe would be to contest her diplomatic immunity. Maunganidza also says that the nature of Mugabe's citizenship could also play a role.

If Grace Mugabe is a South African citizen, she cannot have immunity.

Ottilia Maunganidza, International criminal law expert

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