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Editorial

Mugabe victim left high and dry and betrayed

18 August 2017 - 05:47 By The Times Editorial
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace.
Image: PHILIMON BULAWAYO/ REUTERS

Like it or not, Zimbabwe's thuggish first lady Grace Mugabe will walk scot-free from her troubles in South Africa.

It will not be because of ineptitude from our authorities but because South Africa will have no option but to do nothing, thanks to international law.

Mugabe wrote her own ticket to impunity back in 2009 when she beat up a press photographer in public in an incident during a Hong Kong shopping trip which was captured by security cameras.

She invoked diplomatic immunity and Hong Kong authorities refused to prosecute. Now in South Africa, where she is accused of beating up a young local model, diplomatic immunity has been invoked again.

And as much as this might stick in our craw, South Africa is most likely going to have to let her walk.

Academic Justin Papka published a detailed study of the Mugabe Hong Kong incident in the journal of the Brussels School of International Studies. He argued that the inviolable immunity extended by governments to heads of state also extends to their spouses.

"For this reason, rather uncouth circumstances such as Mrs Mugabe's are typically tolerated by nations in the interests of sustaining positive and efficient relations," he argued.

"The application of head of state immunities to family members is a practice that is bolstered by international customary law, rationality, and the desire for effective mutual relations between sovereign states on a diplomatic level and within a strategic context ..."

This leaves Mugabe's alleged victim Gabriella Engels, a citizen who is promised protection by the South African state, high and dry and betrayed.

In reality, while she is first lady, Grace Mugabe can do whatever she likes here. She could even walk into this newsroom and punch the editor of The Times on the nose.

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