JOHANNESBURG — A South African parliamentary committee will summon the foreign minister to explain the decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Zimbabwe’s first lady, who is accused of assaulting a young model at a Johannesburg hotel, South Africa’s main opposition party said Wednesday.

The Democratic Alliance said parliament’s international relations panel will ask the minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, to explain why Grace Mugabe was allowed to return to neighboring Zimbabwe on Sunday despite calls for her prosecution.

“South Africa cannot be treated as a playground for international criminals,” the party said in a statement. It added that a date for Nkoana-Mashabane’s appearance before the committee should be scheduled urgently.

The 20-year-old Gabriella Engels claims that Mugabe attacked her on Aug. 13, whipping her with an extension cord that cut her forehead.

Also Wednesday, a group representing Engels said it has asked a court to set aside the diplomatic immunity decision, arguing that the foreign minister did not have the power to grant it to the wife of President Robert Mugabe. While the action by the AfriForum group is unlikely to have any immediate impact on Grace Mugabe, its representatives say they want to lay the legal groundwork to make it difficult for her to return to South Africa.

Engels’ affidavit, submitted in the Pretoria High Court, says South African law “explicitly excludes the granting of immunity to heads of state who are guilty of the death or injury of people in South Africa,” said AfriForum, an organization that primarily represents South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority.

“If heads of state themselves do not receive immunity in such a case, there is no way that their spouses or families can qualify for it,” the group said in a statement. It expects the court to hear the arguments against Grace Mugabe’s diplomatic immunity in the next four to five months.

Zimbabwe’s first lady returned to Harare on an Air Zimbabwe flight with her husband, who had attended a summit of regional leaders in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria.


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