PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday flew out to South Africa a day earlier than scheduled, and immediately invoked diplomatic immunity to save his wife, Grace, from arrest for assault in that country.

A statement from the South African Police ministry yesterday said Grace had made a volte-face at the 11th hour after initially indicating she would co-operate and issue a warned-and-cautioned statement.

“The suspect’s lawyers and her government representatives made verbal representations to Saps (South African Police Services) investigators that the suspect wished to invoke diplomatic immunity cover and, thus, she elected to change her mind about the warning statement,” the statement read.

“Subsequently, the government of Zimbabwe has despatched a diplomatic note verbale (an unsigned diplomatic note) to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation invoking said diplomatic immunity cover.”

While conflicting information had been swirling over Grace’s whereabouts in the aftermath of the alleged assault, South African authorities yesterday confirmed the First Lady was still in that country.

Mugabe’s wife was, according to the statement, attending to private business in the neighbouring country and would also attend the ongoing Sadc summit.

“The suspect remains in South Africa and has not departed the republic. We are advised her itinerary includes, among private matters, her attendance and participation at the scheduled Sadc heads of State and Government summit and bilateral diplomatic meetings already underway in Pretoria,” the statement read.

“Discussions with the suspect’s lawyers and the Zimbabwean embassy representatives are taking place to make sure that the suspect is processed.”

Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa, Isaac Moyo, confirmed Mugabe was due in Pretoria yesterday, but declined to discuss Grace.

“Yes, we are expecting the President today,” he said.

“I am yet to be briefed so that I understand what is happening,” he said on the Grace issue.

 “I have actually just arrived from home (Zimbabwe) and I am going into a meeting over that issue.

“I don’t know. I am still to understand these issues.”

Mugabe chaired a Cabinet meeting yesterday before leaving the country for the heads of State meeting, which will take place on August 19 and 20 in South Africa.

South African authorities confirmed a charge of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm had been laid against Mugabe’s wife.

Grace, late on Sunday, reportedly blew her top after storming a hotel room in which her two sons, Robert Jr and Chatunga Bellarmine, were partying, before savagely assaulting a South African model, 20-year-old Gabriella Engels, leaving her with a deep gash on the forehead among other injuries.

The opposition in Zimbabwe slammed Grace’s behaviour, saying it was the clearest hint of what Zimbabweans have had to put up with.

“She (Grace) has a penchant for abrasive and thuggish behaviour that is completely inconsistent with the decorum and decency expected of a First Lady,” MDC-T spokesman, Obert Gutu said. newsday