South African authorities issued an arrest warrant for Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwe's former leader who was accused of assaulting a woman in Johannesburg last year, South African police said Wednesday.
The warrant follows a long legal process during which a South African court this year ruled that the government acted illegally in granting diplomatic immunity to Mugabe when the alleged attack was first reported.
It also marked another setback for Grace and Robert Mugabe, who has kept a mostly low profile since the former president was forced from office in November 2017. Robert Mugabe, whose command over Zimbabwe once seemed impregnable, is now 94 years old and ailing.
"I can confirm that a warrant for the arrest of Grace Mugabe was issued last Thursday. We are following the Interpol processes," said South African police Brig. Vishnu Naidoo.
Whether Zimbabwe would assist South African authorities with any extradition request is in doubt, though the arrest warrant means Grace Mugabe would be vulnerable if she visits her sons, who stay in South Africa. She also owns a house there.
Grace Mugabe allegedly attacked model Gabriella Engels in an upscale hotel on August 13, 2017, whipping her with an extension cord that cut her forehead.
However, Mugabe was allowed to return to Zimbabwe despite calls for her prosecution. She travelled with her husband, who was then president of Zimbabwe and attending a regional summit in Pretoria.
Robert Mugabe was ousted only a few months later after a military takeover, impeachment proceedings led by the ruling party that once backed him and large demonstrations for his removal.
Representatives of Grace Mugabe have said that Engels was the actual aggressor in the altercation between the two.
"We're now at a point where an arrest is possible," said Kallie Kriel, the group's CEO. "We believe that this sends out a strong message that nobody is above the law, not even if your surname is Mugabe."
(With inputs from agencies.)