South African rights group, Afriforum, on Friday denounced as a “disgrace” reported plans by Pretoria to grant Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity.
The first lady is accused by 20-year-old model Gabriella Engels, of barging into a hotel where she was meeting with her sons, and whipped her with an electric cord.
A government source told Reuters Pretoria was going to let Mugabe leave the country and return to Harare in the interests of avoiding a diplomatic rift.
“The government has two responsibilities: one, to protect its own citizens and two, to act according to the law.
“The granting of diplomatic immunity would transgress the law,” Afriforum chief executive Kallie Kriel told Reuters.
Newsmen report that on the police put a “red alert” on South Africa’s borders on Thursday to prevent any attempt by the first lady.
Her husband, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, has meanwhile showed up in South Africa for a regional summit, complicating the diplomatic dilemma now confronting the government.
Grace, 52, has asked for diplomatic immunity in the case, although she has not been charged.
Her present whereabouts were not known to the authorities.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula told reporters on Wednesday Grace had been due to appear in court on Tuesday afternoon under a deal struck with authorities, but she failed to turn up.
On Thursday, Mbalula said police had put a “red alert” on South Africa’s borders to stop her from trying to leave.
“We had already put tabs on the borders, in relation to her leaving the country, so there’s no question about that,” he told reporters.
So far she had made no attempt to flee, he added.
The South African government has made no official comment on the case and foreign ministry spokesmen have not answered their phones for two days, but the issue is causing waves at the highest level.
Justice Minister Michael Masutha told Reuters he was attending a meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss the matter but did not provide details.
The police, whose conduct was subjected to intense scrutiny during the murder trial of track star Oscar Pistorius, have said the first lady will get no special treatment.
A police statement on Wednesday said she would be “processed through the legal system” despite attempts to claim privileged diplomatic status that might put her above the law.