It has long been rumored that the wife of Zimbabwe’s long-serving President Robert Mugabe is keen on replacing him when his time in office ends.
But Grace Mugabe’s succession plans could be in jeopardy after she surrendered herself to South African police on Tuesday following an alleged assault on a young woman in Johannesburg.
The incident allegedly took place at a hotel in Johannesburg’s upmarket Sandton suburb on Sunday. Gabriella Engels, 20, claimed that Zimbabwe’s first lady, 52, assaulted her after she had visited two of the Mugabe sons at the hotel.
Engels told South African news site News 24 that she was waiting in a separate room from the Mugabe sons when Grace Mugabe entered. “When Grace entered I had no idea who she was. She walked in with an extension cord and just started beating me with it,” Engels told News 24. “I needed to crawl out of the room before I could run away.”
Engels shared a picture of a deep gash on her forehead via Twitter and also said that she did not live with the Mugabe sons, but had merely been visiting them.
South Africa’s national police minister Fikile Mbalula confirmed on Tuesday that the Zimbabwean first lady had “handed herself over” to police and was due in court on Tuesday afternoon, South African news site eNCA reported.
Prior to Grace Mugabe handing herself in, South African officials had condemned the incident and said that law enforcement would investigate and arrest her if necessary.
“No one has a right to abuse women irrespective of situations they find themselves in. People of Grace’s caliber were supposed to live an exemplary life and be a role model to inspire young women,” said Gauteng Community Safety chief Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane, in a statement reported by the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
Grace Mugabe has not commented publicly on the allegations. Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Christopher Mushowe told the BBC that he was unaware of the alleged assault.
The wife of President Mugabe was reportedly in South Africa to receive treatment for an ankle injury she sustained during a road accident in Zimbabwe in July.
President Robert Mugabe kisses his wife and first lady Grace Mugabe during the country’s 37th Independence Day celebrations at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on April 18. JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty
Engels told News 24 that she visited Robert Mugabe Jr. and Chatunga Mugabe at the Capital 20 West Hotel in Johannesburg on Sunday after meeting them on Saturday, where the incident allegedly took place. A spokesman for the Capital Hotel Group confirmed to Newsweek that it had removed a “family” from the hotel after receiving reports of an altercation but declined to identify the persons removed.
At 93 years old, President Mugabe is the oldest non-royal head of state in the world. He is running as the governing party’s candidate in the 2018 elections. Should he win and live out the duration of the term, Mugabe would be in power at the age of 99.
Two factions have emerged in his party, ZANU-PF, one backing the first lady and the other supporting Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa as Mugabe’s successor. Mnangagwa recently fell ill and was airlifted to hospital in South Africa, where he is still recuperating.
Grace Mugabe recently challenged her husband to name his successor so that the party could rally around one candidate, but the nonagenarian president has not done so.