HARARE – A South African model who last month claimed to have been severely assaulted by First Lady Grace Mugabe has stepped up her legal fight to bring President Robert Mugabe’s wife to book with the Pretoria High Court set to hear the case on Tuesday next week.
This comes as Grace has claimed that the 20-year-old model, Gabriella Engels, wanted to stab her with a knife when the two had an altercation, resulting in the first lady acting in self-defence in the alleged assault case.
Engels has said Grace brutally assaulted her with an extension cable in a hotel room in Johannesburg after the Zanu PF secretary for the women’s league found her in the company of her sons, Robert Junior and Chatunga Bellarmine — who are currently studying in South Africa.
Speaking in an interview with SABC talk radio station SAfm this week, Engels’ lawyers said the Pretoria High Court would hear her initial application next week.
“Our court application was issued on the 23rd of August.
“The first appearance in the High Court will be on the 19th of September when we will bring an application for an order by the court, where the courts grant us permission to serve papers on Mugabe (Grace) so that she becomes party to the legal proceeding.
“So, that will happen on Tuesday in the Pretoria High Court.
“Thereafter, it will probably be what we refer to as an opposed motion, which could take some months. So my expectation is that the matter will probably be before the courts at the beginning of next year,” Engels’ lawyer, Willies Spies of prominent South African rights group, AfriForum, said.
Grace was granted diplomatic immunity by the South African government last month after the South African Police Service, acting on Engels’ complaint of serious assault, had wanted to charge Mugabe’s wife.
Meanwhile, South African opposition and rights groups are also contesting the granting of the diplomatic immunity, which they argue was done unlawfully — claiming further that Grace did not qualify to be insulated from facing criminal charges.
According to Engels, Grace burst into the Sandton City hotel room where she and two friends were waiting for Chatunga and started attacking them with an extension cable, resulting in the 20-year-old model sustaining serious injuries, some of which needed suturing.
But this week, South African media published Grace’s alleged statement in which her representatives sought to explain the circumstances which had led to the alleged assault of Engels.
“She was worried about them and went to see them (Chatunga and Robert Jnr) at their hotel suite. Upon her arrival, Engels, who was intoxicated and unhinged, attacked Grace Mugabe with a knife after she was asked to leave the hotel.
“Security was left with no other option but to remove Engels from the hotel suite,” read Grace’s statement.
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 this may have been the cause of her injuries.
But in the interview with SAfm, Spies dismissed the claims that Engels wanted to attack Grace with a knife and that the first lady had acted in self-defence.
“It’s not really a surprise. We know that … Mugabe has been acting like a criminal for more than 16 years already and it’s critical conduct for a criminal to make a perpetrator of a victim and to turn around the story and to give the impression that the person who was actually on the receiving end of a crime was actually the cause.
“So, I was not surprised that she made this statement and it doesn’t change our case at all and for that very reason, we believe it is so important that this matter should not be left to politicians to decide, should not be left to her friends to grant her immunity, it should be left to the courts to determine the truth and to make sure that the true events of that evening of the 13th of August is determined and that justice runs its course,” he said.
“… Engels is surprised, she knows what happened that evening and knows exactly what her experience was and her version of events was also supported by a security report by a private security company in the hotel … which pictured the entire story.
“So as far as we are concerned, as I said, the truths of the matter will prevail and it is just important the matter should be brought before the courts because the courts have mechanisms of examination, cross examination, leading of evidence, weighing up of evidence in order to get the true picture of events.
“And for that very reason it is so important that the courts should look at it and no one else,” Spies added.
In her August 13 allegations, Engels said Grace struck her several times with the extension cord which left her with multiple injuries, including gushes in the head and forehead which required stitches.
Engels said when she arrived at the hotel to visit Grace’s sons, one of Grace’s bodyguards had asked her and a friend to wait in a separate room before the first lady allegedly came and started beating her.
“When Grace entered, I had no idea who she was. She walked in with an extension cord and just started beating me with it,” Engels alleged, adding that Grace had also accused her of living with her sons.
“She flipped and just kept on beating me with the plug. Over and over. I had no idea what was going on. I was surprised … I needed to crawl out of the room before I could run away.
“Her 10 bodyguards just stood there watching, no one did anything, no one tried to help me,” she said.
She later posted several pictures of her injuries, which she said were caused by the extension cable allegedly used by Grace during the assault.
The pictures sent social media into meltdown as the international media also covered the alleged assault case prominently.
This is not the first time that Grace has been mired in incidents of violence abroad.
In 2009, she was investigated by Hong Kong police for an alleged assault on a British photographer during what was described at the time as a shopping trip to the city.
She was accused of repeatedly punching Richard Jones — chief photographer of the Hong Kong photo agency Sinopix — who was on an assignment for the British Sunday Times.
In 2014, Grace also confronted journalists at a Singaporean hospital as she attempted to block them from photographing Mugabe as he entered Gleneagles facility for a medical check-up.
Of late, both Mugabe and Grace have been showing signs of exasperation with their fun-loving sons, with the Zanu PF leader publicly rebuking Chatunga and calling on him to take it easy and concentrate on his studies.
Just like her husband, Grace also shared her agony about her sons with relatives in July, over their continuing wayward behaviour.
The errant Mugabe sons, despite the security risks and their status in society, have found it difficult to lead restricted lifestyles, and have often been pictured mingling with other people freely at upmarket entertainment venues.