South African Airways suspends all flights to Zimbabwe

Gabriella Engels with her mother Debbie Engels at a media briefing on Thursday

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace should not be allowed to abuse diplomatic immunity to cover for her alleged disgraceful acts, the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) said on Saturday.

Grace is alleged to have assaulted 20-year-old South African woman Gabriella Engels, who was in the company of the Mugabes' sons, Robert Junior and Bellermine, at a Sandton hotel last Saturday night.

A senior government source said on Friday there was "no way" Grace Mugabe, 52, would be arrested because of the diplomatic fallout that would ensue from Zimbabwe.

She has not commented on the allegations.

Without naming her, a statement issued by South Africa's Police Ministry indicated Grace had undertaken to present herself to the police on Tuesday morning, but failed to do so.

Grace Mugabe's exact whereabouts were unclear Thursday, a day after her husband arrived in South Africa for a regional summit.

Grace Mugabe regularly speaks at rallies in Zimbabwe and is seen as one potential successor to take over from her increasingly frail husband.

"I want to go to court because I really feel like she should go to jail for what she did to me", Engels told The Associated Press.

President Mugabe, 93, flew into the country late Wednesday, the day after his wife failed to attend an agreed meeting with South African police over the hotel incident.




SAA says Zimbabwe cited similar rules in placing restrictions on its operations on Saturday, which affected the government-owned airline's flights between the neighbouring countries. It is home to an estimated three million Zimbabwean exiles who regard President Robert Mugabe as a dictator who has ruined what was once one of Africa's most promising democracies.

"There would obviously be implications for our relations with Zimbabwe".

South Africa's foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

"The silence from our government on the Grace Mugabe matter has been deafening".

However, her daughter's legal team - which includes Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor who secured a murder conviction against Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius - would counter such a move, she said.

Afriforum, an Afrikaans rights group that Nel joined in January after quitting as a state prosecutor, said it would be illegal for Pretoria to give Mugabe immunity and branded the plans a "disgrace".

Nel told reporters that there was the "possibility of political interference" in the case.

The matter also appears to have spilled into aviation, with South African Airways abruptly announcing that it was halting flights to and from Zimbabwe in a decision that followed flights being cancelled overnight after a dispute over permits, officials said. "And the granting of diplomatic immunity would transgress the law", chief executive Kallie Kriel said.

Mugabe has been accused of assaults during other overseas trips, including a 2009 visit to Hong Kong in which a photographer accused her of beating him up. "The South Africans know what should be done in terms of processes", he said.

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