South Africa issued an arrest warrant for Zimbabwe’s former first lady Grace Mugabe over an alleged assault of a model in Johannesburg last year, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.
After the alleged beating with an electric cable came to light in August 2017, the South African government granted Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity.
That immunity was overturned by a South African court this year after the alleged victim, Gabriella Engels, challenged the decision.
“I can confirm that a warrant for the arrest of Grace Mugabe was issued last Thursday,” South African Police Service spokesman Vishnu Naidoo said, adding police were seeking Interpol’s help to enforce it.
The incident took place at a hotel in the affluent Sandton neighbourhood when Engels was with two of Mugabe’s sons, according to the model. Grace Mugabe arrived and lashed out at her without reason, she said.
Mugabe later was allowed to return to Zimbabwe without being prosecuted.
Representatives of Mugabe have said Engels was the aggressor in the altercation.
The warrant means should the former first lady – sometimes dubbed “Gucci Grace” for her lavish lifestyle – now enter South Africa she will be arrested.
AfriForum, a South African group that represented Engels, said the court ruling allowed police to proceed with an investigation.
“We believe that this sends out a strong message that nobody is above the law, not even if your surname is Mugabe,” said Kallie Kriel, the group’s CEO.
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Zimbabwe has an extradition agreement with South Africa allowing the two nations to exchange persons accused of crimes in either jurisdiction.
But Zimababwe’s deputy minister for information, Energy Mutodi, told Reuters news agency that Zimbabwe would not extradite her to South Africa as this would be “harassment”.
“I believe the government of Zimbabwe will not tolerate any harassment or degrading treatment on the former president Mugabe and his immediate family members,” Mutodi said, adding he would still need to consult with President Emmerson Mnangagwa on the final decision.
Mugabe, 53, was seen as a potential successor to her 94-year-old husband Robert.
Grace Mugabe is widely loathed in Zimbabwe for her expensive tastes and her political ambitions.
Her sons with Robert Mugabe – who was deposed by a military coup last November – are also known for their decadent spending and hedonistic lifestyles.
There was no immediate comment from Grace Mugabe. She has denied assaulting Engels, saying an “intoxicated and unhinged” Engels attacked her with a knife after the model had gone to see the Mugabes’ sons.