(REUTERS) – South Africa has granted diplomatic immunity to Zimbabwe’s first lady, Grace Mugabe, allowing her to return to Harare and avoid prosecution for the alleged assault of a 20-year-old model, a security source said on Friday.
South African police had put border posts on “red alert” to prevent Mugabe fleeing and indicated she would receive no special treatment in the case involving Gabriella Engels, who says Mugabe whipped her with an electric extension cable.
A security source, however, said immunity had been granted. The source also said Grace Mugabe had failed to turn up at a Johannesburg court hearing on Tuesday, as agreed with police, because of concerns she could be attacked.
The alleged assault — Engels said it occurred on Sunday evening as she waited with two friends in a luxury Johannesburg hotel suite to meet one of Mugabe’s adult sons — is a diplomatic nightmare for South Africa.
The country has a difficult relationship with its northern neighbor. It is home to an estimated three million Zimbabwean exiles who regard President Robert Mugabe as a dictator who has ruined what was once one of Africa’s most promising democracies.
But although he is also widely reviled in the West, Mugabe is still seen by many Africans as the continent’s elder statesman and a hero of its anti-colonial struggles.
A senior government source said on Friday there was “no way” Grace Mugabe, 52, would be arrested because of the diplomatic fallout that would ensue from Zimbabwe.