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Grace Mugabe returns to Zimbabwe after being granted diplomatic immunity

The wife of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe returned home from Johannesburg on Sunday after being granted diplomatic immunity by South Africa, despite calls that she be prosecuted for allegedly assaulting a young model at a luxury hotel there.

Zimbabwean state broadcaster ZBC showed Grace Mugabe greeting government and military officials at Harare airport after returning on an Air Zimbabwe plane with her husband, who had attended a summit of southern African leaders in Pretoria.

The Mugabe couple did not attend a state funeral for a senior ruling party official later in the day in the Zimbabwean capital. The president usually presides over such events.

South Africa's foreign minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, granted immunity to Grace Mugabe in a government gazette notice that was published Sunday.

Signed on Saturday, the notice recognises "the immunities and privileges of the First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Dr Grace Mugabe".

South African police had previously issued a "red alert" at borders to ensure she did not leave undetected and had said they were waiting for a government decision on the immunity appeal.

The country's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, called for a parliamentary inquiry into South Africa's decision to let the Zimbabwean first lady leave and said on Twitter that the government has "no more legitimacy in the arena of international diplomacy and displays a total disregard for the rule of law".

John Steenhuisen, a senior opposition official, compared the South African handling of the Mugabe case with the government's decision to allow Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to leave the country in 2015, even though he was wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, the African News Agency reported.

Gabriella Engels, a 20-year-old model, said Grace Mugabe attacked her on August 13, whipping her with an extension cord that cut her forehead.

A group representing Engels said Sunday it would go to court to challenge the South African government over the immunity issue.

"We will take a long-term approach on this," said Willie Spies, legal representative at AfriForum, an organisation that primarily represents South Africa's white Afrikaner minority.

"She may be back in Zimbabwe, but it may mean that she will find it very difficult to come back to South Africa in the future," Spies said.

Zimbabwe's state media have largely remained silent on the scandal over Zimbabwe's first lady.

The Zimbabwean president's outspoken wife has been criticised for a fiery temper and lavish shopping expeditions, but her rising political profile has some asking whether she is manoeuvring to succeed her husband.

She recently said that Zimbabwe's ruling party should restore a provision in its constitution stating that one of the party's vice presidents should be a woman, and has publicly challenged her 93-year-old husband to name a successor.


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