Gabriella Engels, the 20-year-old South African model who accused Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe of attacking her with an extension cord at a hotel in Johannesburg, says she doesn’t understand what caused Mugabe to her “with so much hate” that she feared for her life.
Engels claims she was assaulted by Mugabe on Sunday evening as she waited with two friends in a luxury Johannesburg hotel suite to meet one of Mugabe’s adult sons.
“We were chilling in a hotel room, and [the sons] were in the room next door. She came in and started hitting us”, Engels told local media. “She cornered me and started beating the hell out of me”, she said.
“I had to roll myself down to get away from her and that’s when she hit me with the plug and the extension cord and i just remember being curled down on the floor with blood rushing down my face and down my neck”.
“I was just thinking ‘I’ve got to get out of this hotel room right now, before this woman kills me'”, Engels continued at the press conference on Thursday, in which she appeared wearing a large plaster on the left side of her forehead.
“The only people that were in the room with us were her bodyguards and they were standing back while she was beating us. We were begging her to stop hitting us but she didn’t want to. She just, she hit us with so much hate. To this day my friends and I don’t understand why this woman attacked us the way she did for no reason at all”.
Zimbabwe’s First Lady has not been seen publicly since the incident. Police have reportedly put border posts on “red alert” to prevent Mugabe fleeing and indicated she will receive no special treatment in the case. But Reuters reported on Friday that South Africa is planning to grant her diplomatic immunity, allowing her to return to Zimbabwe and avoid prosecution.
South Africa’s government is apparently anxious to avoid any diplomatic fallout from arresting the first lady of Zimbabwe, which has been led for nearly four decades by Grace’s husband Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old president.
“There would obviously be implications for our relations with Zimbabwe. Sadly the other countries in the region are watching us and how we are going to act”, a source told The Guardian.
“What is likely to happen is that she will be allowed to go back home, and then we announce that we’ve granted diplomatic immunity and wait for somebody to challenge us”, the source said.
Afriforum, a South African rights group that is advising Engels — who has registered a case of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm — said it would be a disgrace to grant diplomatic immunity.
“The government has two responsibilities: one, to protect its own citizens; and two, to act according to the law. And the granting of diplomatic immunity would transgress the law”, said the forum’s chief executive Kallie Kriel.
South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, also demanded Mugabe’s arrest.
“No one is above the law and the DA will do everything possible to ensure that Ms Mugabe is not allowed to flee South Africa before she faces up to the charges against her”, the party said.
Mugabe has been in legal trouble before when a photographer in Hong Kong alleged Mugabe and her bodyguard had assaulted him, but no charges were brought at the time. Dubbed the “mother of the nation” by official state media in Zimbabwe, Grace is considered by some as a possible successor to her increasingly frail husband.