ON August 13, First Lady Grace Mugabe grabbed international attention for all the wrong reasons, after she allegedly lost her temper and stormed a plush South African hotel, where she is accused of assaulting a model, Gabriella Engels, whom she found in the company of her sons, Robert Jnr and Bellarmine Chatunga.
There were calls to have Grace arrested and there were claims that borders had been sealed to block her from leaving.
However, the South African government granted her diplomatic immunity.
The victim’s family and other South African civil rights groups, among them AfriForum, insist Grace should be brought to book.
Early this week, NewsDay (ND) reporter Tatira Zwinoira spoke to Engels’s mother, Debbie (DE), over the phone, who poured out her heart in an interview demanding justice for her daughter.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
ND: Now that your government has allowed the diplomatic immunity to stand, what actions will you be taking as a family?
DE: We are leaving it in the capable hands of our legal team. They are already busy planning the way forward, trying to get this immunity thing reversed, they have a plan of action going forward. So we are leaving it in their very capable hands.
ND: What are your feelings towards your government for granting First Lady Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity?
DE: I am appalled that they can put someone, who is in power, ahead of their own citizens and that their own citizens’ rights don’t count for anything. They are more interested in protecting their political allies than protecting their own citizens.
I am very saddened by this fact. I mean, the government is there to look after its people and now they are turning their backs on their own citizens to keep their political allies happy.
ND: How will you be engaging with your government to press charges against Grace?
DE: Look, our legal team said if the government does not change their minds about this diplomatic immunity, then they will proceed to charge her in a private capacity.
ND: But even in a private capacity, what assurance do you have that she will come to stand trial in your country?
DE: It is a chance that we are willing to take, you know. We have to. She (Grace) cannot just go around doing as she pleases.
We will try and fight this thing as far as possible and try whatever avenues are available to us to get some justice for my child.
ND: What emotional trauma has this caused you and your family since you were made aware of this story?
DE: It has turned our lives upside down because we are private people.
We are private people and now to see yourselves on the television, it has turned our world upside down.
This is not what we are used to, you understand? So, for me, it is difficult. You see how my daughter is in pain and being lambasted the way she is on social media?
She was just being a youngster going to visit friends and, at the end of the day, we were all young at one point. I do not see anything wrong with visiting friends.
To be assaulted by somebody you do not know and being labelled a drug dealer, a prostitute and all this is difficult for someone her age.
If I try and put myself in her shoes, it would have been difficult to cope with this as well. What more for a 20-year-old?
ND: What are your feelings now towards Grace and her sons? Specifically, what are your daughter’s feelings?
DE: She is not saying much about how she feels towards them. She just feels a great injustice has been done to her and I do not blame her.
How would you feel being assaulted like that by somebody you do not know?
She had no idea who this woman was.
After the assault, when one of the hotel security guards helped her to escape from the room, she asked the security guy who the woman who had attacked her was so she could go and lay a charge of assault.
It was only then she found out who this woman was, as the security guard told her this is President Robert Mugabe’s wife.
ND: What did the doctors say about the injuries she sustained after the attack?
DE: I [shudder] to think if my daughter had stayed in the room how bad it could have been. It could have been much worse.
Luckily, she managed to escape at the point she did.
It could have been far worse, she could have lost her eye.
If that woman (Grace) had just hit a little bit lower, she could have lost an eye or something.
My daughter managed to crawl out of the room and when she got outside the room, one of the hotel security guards helped her to get out because the bodyguards that came in with Grace Mugabe all stood and watched. Nobody attempted to stop her (Grace) or anything.
A security (guard) from the hotel managed to help her get away and one friend was left behind.
ND: What does she feel about the South African government granting Grace diplomatic immunity? Has she said anything to you?
DE: She is saddened by the event. She also feels that her own government has failed her.
ND: You say your legal team has got a response of what they are doing. Would you be able to tell us by any chance what they are going to be doing?
DE: Like I said, they are planning to take this matter to court to have this decision overturned and then we will work from there and see what the outcome will be.
They are willing to fight this thing to highest point to try and get some justice for my daughter.
ND: Do you have a copy of the medical report your daughter got when she went to have her injuries checked?
DE: No. We gave that to the police and did not make a copy. Like I said, we are not used to things like this, so we are just trying to do things according to the book.
We are not used to drama and things like this.