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SAA resumes flights to Zimbabwe

21 August 2017

South Africa yesterday sealed all its borders and issued a high-level security alert to its agents to look out for under-pressure First Lady Grace Mugabe in case she tries to flee the country where she is alleged to have assaulted a 20-year-old model.

Her whereabouts were not known on Friday, but South African police minister Fikile Mbalula said she remained in the country.

South African police had placed border posts on "red alert" to prevent her from leaving the country, but the worldwide relations minister granted the wife of 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe diplomatic immunity.

John Steenhuisen, a senior opposition figure, compared the South African handling of the Mugabe case to the government's decision to allow the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, to leave the country in 2015 even though he was wanted by the global criminal court for alleged war crimes.

There has been concern that the incident involving Mugabe, seen as a possible successor to her 93-year-old husband, President Robert Mugabe, could create a larger diplomatic crisis between the nations.

He said Mugabe's lawyers presented themselves to plead diplomatic immunity on her behalf.

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South African Airways said Zimbabwe had placed restrictions on its operations, affecting its flights between the neighbouring countries.

South Africa's main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), blamed the ministers of police, worldwide relations and defence for the failure to detain Mugabe and said it wants the matter investigated.

A South African Airways flight was not allowed to take off from Zimbabwe's Harare airport for a trip to Johannesburg on Saturday.

Gabriella and her friend on Sunday evening went to visit one of Bellarmine's friends in the hotel.

The government announced in an extraordinary Government Gazette on Sunday that she had been granted diplomatic immunity. She appeared at a press conference Thursday, wearing a large plaster on the left side of her forehead.

It is unclear whether Grace Mugabe entered South Africa in a personal or an official capacity, which could impact her immunity appeal.

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She has not commented on the allegations.

News24 added that due to the Mugabe scandal, "Zimbabwe blocked flights by South Africa's government-owned airline on Saturday after an Air Zimbabwe flight was grounded at Johannesburg's main global airport on the previous evening".

Nicknamed "The Pitbull" for his combative style in the blockbuster Pistorius trial, he also said detectives had told Engels they were seeking an arrest warrant for Mugabe.

It added that the minister had granted immunity to Grace Mugabe "after careful consideration of all the relevant factors".

In 2009, a newspaper photographer in Hong Kong said Grace and her bodyguard had assaulted him.

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SAA resumes flights to Zimbabwe