Grace Mugabe’s alleged South Africa assault an echo of 2009 Hong Kong incident

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Diplomatic immunity saved Zimbabwean first lady from standing trial after photographer was attacked in the city

Grace Mugabe, wife of Zimbabwean presi­dent Robert Mugabe, was last month accused of assaulting 20-year-old model Gabriella Engels, who had been socialising with Mugabe’s sons in a Johannesburg hotel room.

Hong Kong readers may recall the fiery first lady having been similarly accused back in 2009.

“Police are investigating an alleged assault on a newspaper photographer by the wife of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe while she was on a shopping trip to the city,” the South China Morning Post reported on January 19 of that year. “Grace Mugabe, 43, is accused of repeatedly punching Richard Jones, chief photographer of the Hong Kong agency Sinopix, after he took pictures of her shopping in Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui.”

I saw Grace Mugabe coming at me. She launched herself at me, tried to grab my camera and then directed punches at my face. She hit me at least 10 times in the face and head
Photographer Richard Jones

Jones and a colleague were on assignment for Britain’s Sunday Times, tailing Mugabe as she left the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel to go shopping with a bodyguard and a woman friend.

“They noticed me taking pictures when she was about 150 metres from her hotel and began shouting at me,” Jones told the Post. “The bodyguard chased after me. I ran, but I was carrying heavy camera gear, and he caught up with me after 30 metres and tried to get my camera off me. Then I saw Grace Mugabe coming at me. She launched herself at me, tried to grab my camera and then directed punches at my face. She hit me at least 10 times in the face and head.”

The SCMP report on the 2009 incident in Hong Kong involving the Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe and photographer Richard Jones.

Mugabe’s diamond-encrusted ring cut into Jones when she hit him, he said.

“She was screaming and shouting, and her bodyguard was, too. I was holding on to the camera so I couldn’t defend myself.”

Jones reported the incident to police in Tsim Sha Tsui two days later, by which time Mugabe and her entourage had left Hong Kong. He later said a doctor had found at least nine marks on his face, mouth and below his mouth and chin, and on both temples.

On March 22, 2009, the Post reported that Mugabe was “entitled to immunity from prosecution under China’s laws”. It was not known whether Mugabe had requested diplomatic immunity.

The alleged assault extended into a controversy over Bona Mugabe, Mugabe’s daughter, who was studying in Hong Kong.

“A students’ union in Zimbabwe has called on Hong Kong to deport the daughter of President Robert Mugabe who is studying at a university in the city under an assumed name,” the Post reported on February 15, 2009.

Bona Mugabe at a trade fair in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in May 2011. Picture: Philemon Bulawayo

However, while early reports indicated Bona Mugabe was studying at the University of Hong Kong under an alias, City University said it had enrolled a student called Bona Mugabe, the Post reported on February 17. A City University spokesman said Bona Mugabe applied through the normal procedures and the university admitted her based on the common admission guidelines, and she would be afforded no special privileges.