Grace Mugabe: South Africa opposition demands arrest not immunity

South Africa's opposition has called for the arrest of Zimbabwe's first lady after she allegedly beat a model with an electric cable. It's not clear if a controversial request for diplomatic immunity will be granted.

South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) on Friday called Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe a "massive flight risk," and said she should be arrested immediately.

"No one is above the law and the DA will do everything possible to ensure that Ms Mugabe is not allowed to flee South Africa before she faces up to the charges against her," the Democratic Alliance party said in a statement, adding that Mugabe should also "hand over all of her passports."

South African model Gabriella Engels accused the first lady of whipping her with an electric extension cable at a luxury Johannesburg hotel where she was meeting one of Mugabe's sons.

"She split my head open in three places" with an extension cord and "used the plug to hit me," Engels wrote on Twitter. The model has since filed a case of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Immunity request

Zimbabwe has asked South African authorities for diplomatic immunity for Mugabe, who has not commented or been seen since the alleged assault took place on Sunday.

South African border police say they are on "red alert" to prevent her from fleeing the country and insist she won't be given special treatment.

But a senior government source cited by the Reuters news agency said there was "no way" the first lady would be arrested. The source also said South Africa was planning to grant her immunity and let her return home to escape prosecution because the diplomatic fallout from neighbor Zimbabwe would be too great.

"What is likely to happen is that she will be allowed to go back home, and then we announce that we've granted diplomatic immunity and wait for somebody to challenge us," the source was quoted as saying.

Legal experts have questioned whether Mugabe is even eligible for diplomatic immunity, given that she was in South Africa to have medical treatment.

Engels' legal team - which includes Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor who secured a murder conviction against Paralympian Oscar Pistorius - said it would be illegal for Pretoria to give Mugabe immunity and have threatened to challenge such an outcome in court.

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nm/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP)