Mugabe back in South Africa after wife assault on model

PRETORIA

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe returned to South Africa today for the first time since his wife claimed diplomatic immunity over allegedly assaulting a model in a Johannesburg hotel room.

President Mugabe, 93, was not accompanied by his wife Grace as he met President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria, six weeks after the alleged attack sparked diplomatic tension between the two neighbours.

Mr Mugabe used his opening remarks at the talks to stress the close relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa, but did not mention the incident.

“Had we had a say in the choice of a neighbour, we would have chosen you,” he said, to laughter from ministers on both sides.

“We are one — one people, one revolution, one struggle, one future,” he added.

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Grace Mugabe, 52, is alleged to have assaulted Gabriella Engels with an electrical extension cable at the chic Johannesburg hotel where the Mugabes’ two sons, who are in their 20s, were staying.

Ms Engels suffered cuts to her forehead and the back of her head during the alleged August 13 assault.

The first lady was granted diplomatic immunity by South African authorities and promptly flew out of the country, accompanied by her husband who had arrived for a regional summit.

Earlier, the South African police had vowed to prevent her from leaving as they considered issuing an arrest warrant.

At the time of the incident, Mugabe’s two sons Robert Jnr and Chatunga were living in the Sandton business district of Johannesburg, where they have a reputation for partying.

Engels, 20, has launched a legal battle to have Grace Mugabe stripped of immunity over the alleged attack.

“We were chilling in a hotel room, and (Mugabe’s sons) were in the room next door. She came in and started hitting us,” Ms Engels told local media.

In 2009, Grace Mugabe was granted immunity in Hong Kong after repeatedly punching a British photographer for taking pictures of her at a luxury hotel.

President Mugabe, who came to power in 1980, is due to stand again in elections next year, with his wife seen as one possible successor when he leaves office.

At Tuesday’s talks, Zuma also made no reference to the incident and said there was “ever-growing cooperation between the two countries”.

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