Pistorius prosecutor takes up case against Grace Mugabe

South African model Gabriella Engels (right), allegedly assaulted by Zimbabwe First Lady Grace Mugabe, and her mother Debbie Engels during a press conference on August 17, 2017. PHOTO | PETER DUBE | NMG  

South African Oscar Pistorius’ prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, has offered legal services to Gabriella Engels, a 20-year-old model who was alleged assaulted by Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe.

Mr Nel has said he is concerned over the possibility of political interference in the prosecution of the case.

The former State advocate left the National Prosecuting Authority in January to join a civil rights organisation AfriForum.

Mr Nel told journalists in Pretoria on Thursday that Ms Engels’ family had been approached by a third party to accept a cash settlement and drop the case. He, however, would not shed more light on the allegations.

“AfriForum is willing to fight this matter to the highest court,” he said.

Head of the Private Prosecuting Unit of the civil rights organisation AfriForum, Gerrie Nel looks on during a press conference concerning the alleged assault by Zimbabwe First Lady Grace Mugabe towards South African model Gabriella Engels on August 17, 2017. PHOTO | AFP

Debbie Engels, the alleged victim’s mother, welcomed the assistance saying she was glad the family was not left alone.

“At least now I can sleep a little bit more peaceful knowing that I have people in my corner that are going to help me fight for justice for my daughter. And I know these people are not going to back down. They’re going to fight for her all the way. I’m very, very grateful. Now I know that this woman is not going to get off scot-free,” she said.

Ms Engels, a model, laid criminal charges against the 52-year-old wife of President Robert Mugabe on Monday after she allegedly hit her with an electrical cord in a Sandton hotel on Sunday. The model said she suffered deep cuts to her forehead and the back of her head.

At the press briefing in Pretoria, Ms Engels was seen with a bandage on her forehead, but did not speak about the incident.

Meanwhile, South African police have issued a "red alert" at the country's borders for Mrs Mugabe, Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has said.

Mr Mbalula had previous said that Zimbabwe’s first lady had been expected to appear in court on Tuesday if she reported to a police station, but she failed to show up.

Mrs Mugabe has since invoked diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution.

However, immigration law experts say she can only be granted immunity if her visit to South Africa was gazetted by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) in advance.

The Police ministry said she is expected to join her husband and other heads of state at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit underway in Pretoria. Her official duties at the summit could bolster her claim to diplomatic immunity.

Grace Mugabe had been in South Africa to attend to personal matters and see her two sons.

Mr Nel, nicknamed Pitbull, prosecuted former Olympic star Oscar Pistorius, who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013.

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