First Lady Grace Mugabe last week, unashamedly exported her voluble mischief to South Africa where she brutally attacked a 20-year-old model Gabriella Engels, whom she had found in the company of her equally mischievous sons, Robert Junior and Chatunga Bellarmine. The two spoilt brats are living large in that country at the expense of the struggling Zimbabwean taxpayers.
Opinion: Luke Tamborinyoka
The case has justifiably brought fresh controversy into the First Family, the home of yet another raging succession debate in the wake of our soon-to-be
94-year-old President Robert Mugabe who intends to seek a fresh five-year mandate next year.
However, it is Grace’s brutal assault of a young woman she found in the company of her sons that has become the subject of a global debate on violence and the abuse of diplomatic immunity. After initially pledging to hand over herself to the police, Grace eventually sought sanctuary in diplomatic etiquette and procedures, even though she had committed the crime, while on a private visit in South Africa.
The abuse of diplomatic privilege is not new. Ardent students of Political Science and International Law will recall the several instances of the blatant abuse of diplomatic immunity or the inviolability principle as captured under Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), which explicitly states that the person of the diplomat is inviolable and, therefore, not liable to arrest or prosecution in the host country.
In 2008, Rafael Quintero Curiel, a Mexican Press attaché stole cellular phones from a high security locker room at a US summit. He was caught on camera, but invoked diplomatic immunity and was not arrested, even though he was later detained by the Mexican government. In 2010, Mohammed al Maddadi, a Qatari envoy flying from Washington DC to Denver caused panic in a plane when he insinuated he was a terrorist before invoking diplomatic immunity. Benny Kusni, a Senegalese diplomat in Singapore at one time ran an illegal casino in the consulate, taking advantage of the inviolability of diplomatic premises as captured under Article 22 of the Vienna Convention. A Burmese envoy to Sri Lanka in 1979 caught his wife having an affair, shot her and burnt her body within the precincts of the embassy, banking on the inviolability of both the embassy premises and his person. He was never convicted.
The above are some of the notable cases of abuse of diplomatic privilege, even though the enjoyment of such privilege was undisputed on the persons involved as they were entitled to such privileges. Not so with Grace, a civilian holder of a diplomatic passport, who sought to abuse her position as the wife of a Head of State to escape prosecution from a crime she committed as a civilian. Her case might turn out to be the locus classicus on the blatant abuse of diplomatic privilege by a holder — by marriage — of a diplomatic passport who was not on official business at the time of the commission of a crime.
There were lame, almost non-existent attempts by the government to defend her in the press. Presidential spokesperson George Charamba, my totem-mate who Grace had publicly dressed down in Chinhoyi a few days before her misadventure, conveniently chose not to be reachable to the press corps. There is no prize for guessing that for him, Grace had been hoist by her own petard and she had to stew, undefended, in her gothic act of criminality.
Fortunately for Gabriella, she had AfriForum and the world media to fight her case. Not so for the poor residents at Manzou Farm in Mazowe and many others here in Zimbabwe, who continue to be at this evil woman’s mercy, without any global outrage.
For her hapless victims in Zimbabwe, including my brother Charamba, Grace does not have to seek asylum in some Vienna convention clause to justify her violent conduct or even her excoriation of senior government officials at a political rally.
Her marriage certificate has been enough licence for her numerous acts of impunity. Backed by a government and a husband with a tenuous human rights record, she can never be expected to meet with any justice in Zimbabwe.
However, in all earnest, Grace was expected to face the full wrath of the law, at least in South Africa, if not here. The world had become tired of her antics for which she appears not to be accountable to anyone, not least because she is the country’s de facto Head of State and government.
Moreover, there is absolutely no reason for her to invoke the inviolability principle because we all know she was in South Africa as a private citizen. And South Africa had no reason to grant her such immunity. She may well claim she was a concerned mother who was out to teach the girl morality, but she ought to have started with her own children, who apparently had welcomed Gabriella into their place of residence.
If her aversion to immorality was the reason for her violence in South Africa, it is ironic that Grace is the same woman who bedded our then married President when his then lawfully-wedded wife — the affable Sally —was dying of a kidney ailment.
What stinking hypocrisy! Her latest escapade in South Africa was simply a disgrace, period.
No amount of purported diplomatic privilege can mask this ignominy. And for once, I am certain that my brother Charamba will agree with me on this one!
Yes, Mhofu, we will neither welcome nor beat at such shameful antics from a disgraceful woman. Hatidi kuSekeramai (no pun intended)! Nobody expected Grace to be granted full diplomatic immunity by the South African government. It makes the people of Zimbabwe to take a dim view of their neighbours and Southern African Development Community (Sadc), considering that President Jacob Zuma is now the chairperson of the regional body.
If a Sadc chair abets violence in his own country, what guarantee do we have that the regional body will take a strong position if such violence erupts in the run-up to next-year’s watershed election in Zimbabwe?
Put simply, we are on our own and we cannot bank on anyone else.
It is going to be none but ourselves in this struggle, especially as the nation teeters on the cusp of yet another watershed election in which the stakes are very high for the violence-prone couple ensconced at Zimbabwe’s State House.
Luke Tamborinyoka doubles as the Presidential Spokesperson and Director of Communications in the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai. He writes here in his personal capacity. You can interact with him on facebook or follow him on the twitter handle @luke_tambo