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Gabriella Engels sits during a press conference at the AfriForum Offices in Centurion. Picture: Alaister Russell

Spare a thought for Gabriella Engels.

Had what happened two Sundays ago in that Sandton hotel not happened, we would probably not have known about her. She would have just continued with her life and her burgeoning modeling career unperturbed.  Until the arrival of the Zimbabwean First Lady, Grace Mugabe, that is.

Ordinarily, some people come and go in our lives and most make an impression and we become all the better for having made contact with them. I do not think that Gabriella is impressed by having come into contact with Mrs Mugabe. Mrs Mugabe made an indelible mark (pun not intended) in the life of this young model. Reports are that she made a private visit to Mzantsi to check on her two sons who were reportedly partying up a storm. On arriving at their hotel in Sandton, she definitely did not find them engrossed in reading the Bible and proceeded to create a mini-storm of her own.

She chanced on an electric extension cord and decided to let the contraption do what her words would fail to do. In the ensuing melee her sons fled and the unfortunate Gabriella Engels had the extension cord coming into contact with her forehead and leaving a nasty gash in the process. Of the two Mugabe sons, it would seem that they succeeded in showing their mother a clean pair of heels (or is it Italian brogues?). Obviously what the First Lady had done to Gabriella was anything but acceptable. She had to appear before a court of law and give some answers as to what had happened. It is at this point that the story gets juicier.

She was expected to hand herself, nay amble to the police station by Monday, and sadly she did not do so. She may have forgotten or may have lost her way to the police station.

Our own Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, assured South Africa that the borders would be closed to prevent the First Lady from slinking unnoticed to her home country. It was a bit odd for Mbalula to say that as if the First Lady came with a car and would return in such. For a couple of days the First Lady could not be spotted and was giving the police the runaround and rumours were swirling around that she may have returned to Zimbabwe after her ‘mission’. We later learnt that she was still around the country awaiting the arrival of her husband, President Robert Mugabe, who was scheduled to attend the opening of the BRICS Development Bank. The matter was threatening to create a diplomatic storm between the Southern African neighbours.

There were some whispers emanating from not so low places that there was a possibility that she might be granted diplomatic immunity. Of course, that would be bizarre as she had come to the country not on official business, but in her capacity as a private individual visiting her sons. All the while there was hardly anyone who condemned what she had done to the young Gabriella. Instead, some tried to justify the dastardly deed she had done by saying that those were actions of a frustrated African mother who wanted to whip her wayward offspring into line. Strangely, I seem to recall that it is not African to barge into someone else’s house and create a fracas and then vamoose as quickly as you had come.

My understanding of African decency is that you come into the house, greet and sit down and inquire about a problem. I am not sure if it is proper African decency to go on and beat your child in my own house when you can take your child and do so in your own backyard. The fact that all of this happened in the midst of Women’s Month makes it all the more disturbing. The First Lady did not seem to respect our country and its laws. However, the worst thing was the reticence of many in the face of such behavior.

When AfriForum stepped in to assist Gabriella, the usual chorus of condemnation came thick and fast.

Black First Land First (BLF) were quick off the starting blocks and spared no effort in reminding us that AfriForum were “land thieves who were interfering in an issue involving Blacks”. I, for the record, hold no brief for AfriForum who I see as a staunch Afrikaner entity concerned with protection of Afrikaner interests. However, I do not fault them for offering assistance to Gabriella where none was forthcoming. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that they may be using the case to boost their profile. As long as the young girl will get justice, to me, all is fine.

There were reports that Gabriella was offered an unspecified sum of money. The ‘bribe’, as it definitely is, was ostensibly meant to silence her and let the matter die a natural death. I commend the young lady for flatly refusing the money and demanding justice. Indeed, the matter may not go that far as the First Lady has been subsequently granted diplomatic immunity.

There are a number of things that arise out of this sad saga involving the Zimbabwean First Lady.

One of them that we may find hard to swallow is that South Africa is not accorded the kind of respect that is commensurate with its status by Zimbabwe. What the First Lady did within our borders would hardly be done by any South African in Zimbabwe, let alone someone as honourable as the spouse of our head of state. Surely, the South African High Commissioner in Zimbabwe would have been expelled by the authorities as a sign of protest against such an action. The other troubling thing about the saga is that justice does not favour the poor that much. The way the case has been handled by South Africa leaves a lot to be desired.

One is bound to ask the question: would the case had been handled differently had the victim been someone else not Gabriella Engels? We can never know. But, I do not think it is fair to criticize AfriForum for doing what many have signally failed to do. Let them do what they can and let us learn from them moving forward.

  • Harald Sitta

    Bingo!head on the nail!

  • Michael Nathan Bain

    Imagine if the roles were reversed and this lass had give Gracie a PK with an Extension Cord!!

    She would still be in a cell!