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Dueling Demonstrations in Zimbabwe Over First Lady

  • VOA Staff

Members of ZANU-PF party march in Harare chanting songs to show support for first lady Grace Mugabe. They hold placards saying “Gabriella Engels is not an angel.”

There were dueling demonstrations in Zimbabwe’s capital Wednesday, for and against first lady Grace Mugabe.

Members of the ruling ZANU-PF marched in Harare chanting songs to show support for first lady Grace Mugabe. They held placards written “Gabriella Engels is not an angel.”

Gabriella Engels touches her head during a media conference in Pretoria, South Africa, Aug. 17, 2017.
Gabriella Engels touches her head during a media conference in Pretoria, South Africa, Aug. 17, 2017.

Engels is the South African model who accused Mugabe of assaulting her with an electrical cord two weeks ago at a Johannesburg hotel.

The first lady was expected at the march, but senior ZANU-PF official Manditawepi Chimene said she had other commitments.

ZANU-PF senior official Manditawepi Chimene addressing party supporters said Mrs. Grace Mugabe deserved the same fair treatment as President Robert Mugabe.
ZANU-PF senior official Manditawepi Chimene addressing party supporters said Mrs. Grace Mugabe deserved the same fair treatment as President Robert Mugabe.

Chimene said, “We can not afford her to sleep outside her home. We have come here for our father and our mother,” referring to longtime president Robert Mugabe and his wife.

“There is no way we are going to respect our father and ignore our mother,” she added

That statement is an apparent reference to ongoing rivalry within the ZANU-PF.

ZANU-PF supporters carry a placard showing support for Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe.
ZANU-PF supporters carry a placard showing support for Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe.

One faction supports Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to succeed Robert Mugabe, while another is backing Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980.

The first lady has not spoken publicly since she returned from South Africa.

FILE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace follow proceedings during a youth rally in Marondera about 100 kilometers east of Harare, June, 2, 2017.
FILE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace follow proceedings during a youth rally in Marondera about 100 kilometers east of Harare, June, 2, 2017.

Controversial immunity

Meanwhile in South Africa, Engels has filed a court challenge to Grace Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity, saying she had traveled to South Africa for medical treatment, not official business.

On Wednesday, as the ruling party marched, a coalition of Zimbabwean opposition parties rallied outside the South African Embassy in Harare to protest Pretoria's handling of the alleged assault case.

“Granting her immunity is saying political leaders can go anywhere in the world and assault people and get away with it because they have diplomatic immunity," said opposition activist Linda Masarira. "It [gives] a negative image on all Zimbabweans.”

South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, last week filed papers with the nation's Constitutional Court asking the court to reject the decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Mugabe.

In a statement, the party said the move was "wholly without legal merit and should thus be declared unconstitutional and invalid."

No hearing date has been set for the case, but it could further strain Harare-Pretoria relations.

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