The 20-year-old South African model that Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe is alleged to have assaulted was offered cash to make potential charges “go away”, a lawyer said Thursday.
Police have said they were also on high alert to make sure that the 52-year-old wife of President Robert Mugabe does not skip the country, with an arrest warrant reportedly being considered.
The first lady is alleged to have hit Gabriella Engels on Sunday at a Johannesburg hotel.
Engels said she suffered deep cuts to her forehead and the back of her head and has opened a police case alleging assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. She appeared at a press conference Thursday, wearing a large plaster on the left side of her forehead.
Her “family has been approached by a third party to accept an amount of money to settle this” said Gerrie Nel, the advocate best known for his prosecution of fallen athlete Oscar Pistorius.
They were told “let us talk and this can go away. There was no amount mentioned,” said Nel, flanked by Engels and her mother.
“The family is not interested in doing this,” added Nel, who became famous for leading the prosecution of Paralympian Pistorius who in 2015 was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend.
South African police have said Grace Mugabe, who was in the country to have her ankle checked following a freak accident at Harare airport last month, is seeking diplomatic immunity.
Her two sons were staying at the hotel where the assault is alleged to have taken place.
A “red alert” has also been put out at the country’s borders, Police Minister Fikile Mbalula told reporters.
Nel said an officer investigating the case had told Engels on Thursday that “they would now apply for a warrant” (of arrest).
Nel was speaking on behalf of AfriForum, a pro-Afrikaner civil rights organisation which helps victims of crime and has vowed to help Engels seek justice.
– ‘She is not untouchable’ –
“We just want to make sure that everybody is equal before the law and that there should not be selective prosecution,” said Nel.
The group has sought to block any attempt by government officials to grant Mugabe diplomatic immunity.
“Should an erroneous decision be made to grant diplomatic immunity in this case then we would consider bringing an urgent application to the high court to prevent the decision from being executed,” said Willie Spies, another lawyer with AfriForum.
AfriForum has said it would even consider a private prosecution.
“She is not untouchable,” Kallie Kriel, the CEO of AfriForum said.
Engels’ mother Debbie said she was relieved that AfriForum was helping.
“Now I can sleep a little bit more peacefully knowing that I have people …who can help me to get justice for my daughter,” she told reporters.
“Now I know that this woman is not going to get off scot-free from what she did to my child.”
The alleged attack threatens to spark a diplomatic problem for South Africa and Zimbabwe, neighbours who have strong political and economic ties.
President Mugabe flew into South Africa late Wednesday, two days ahead of a regional summit which starts on Saturday, giving rise to speculation that he arrived early so that he could discuss the case with South African leader Jacob Zuma.