Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe, has denied assaulting South African model Gabriella Engels with an electric cable in a Johannesburg hotel suite last month, saying an “intoxicated and unhinged” Miss Engels attacked her with a knife.
In a previously unreported August 17 deposition seen by Reuters, Mrs Mugabe countered 20-year-old Miss Engels’ version, portraying herself as the victim after intervening on behalf of her adult sons Chatunga and Robert Junior who were “in trouble with a drunken young woman”.
The statement said Grace Mugabe, 52 and a contender to replace her 93-year-old husband as Zimbabwe’s president, was thinking about filing attempted murder charges. A group representing Miss Engels dismissed the allegations.
According to the model, an irate Mrs Mugabe burst into the room where she was waiting with two friends to meet Chatunga on August 13 and started laying into her with an electric cable.
Photographs taken by Engels’ mother soon after the incident showed gashes to the model’s head. She also had bruising on her thighs.
In her deposition, Mrs Mugabe dismissed Miss Engels’ version and said she had been attacked after going to help her sons.
“She was worried about them and went to see them at their hotel suite,” the statement said. “Upon her arrival, Ms Engels, who was intoxicated and unhinged, attacked Dr Grace Mugabe with a knife after she was asked to leave the hotel.
The statement also alleged that Engels had been in a fight with other women at Johannesburg’s Taboo nightclub the previous evening and suggested that may have been the cause of her injuries.
Afriforum, an Afrikaans civil society group acting on behalf of Engels, denied both accusations. “It is clear that Grace Mugabe is desperately trying to escape responsibility for her own violent behaviour,” Afriforum said.
South Africa granted Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity, making it impossible for her to be prosecuted, although Miss Engels and Afriforum have challenged that decision, saying Mrs Mugabe was not in South Africa on official business.
They also argued that the alleged assault was a “grave crime” that was not covered by diplomatic immunity laws.
The decision to let Grace Mugabe return home caused a row in South Africa, with the opposition Democratic Alliance also going to court to overturn the immunity.
According to Zimbabwean intelligence files seen by Reuters, Robert Mugabe lobbied his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, to have the issue “solved amicably” and out of court but was stymied by Miss Engels’ refusal to accept a settlement.