Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace attend a rally in Marondera.
JOHANNESBURG-HARARE - Zimbabwe's first lady, Grace Mugabe, returned home on Tuesday from South Africa after failing to turn herself in to police in Johannesburg to face charges of assaulting a model in a hotel room.
There was no immediate public comment on the case from Grace, 52, a possible successor to her husband, President Robert Mugabe, 93, but Zimbabwe government sources confirmed she had returned home.
"Yes, she is back in the country. We don't know where this issue of assault charges is coming from," said a senior government official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
A second official confirmed that Grace had returned, saying "she is around now", and accused the media of a plot to tarnish the first family's name.
Twenty-year-old Gabriella Engels told South African media that Mugabe had attacked her after she had gone to see the Mugabes' sons Robert and Chatunga at a hotel in Sandton on Sunday.
Earlier, South African police had been negotiating with Grace's lawyers to get her to turn herself in to face charges of assault, a senior police source said.
Confusion surrounded the case on Tuesday. Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said early in the day that Mugabe had already handed herself in to police and would appear in court shortly.
But in the afternoon, the Randburg Magistrate's Court, at which Grace had been expected to be charged formally, closed for the day without her appearing.
General secretary of Zimbabwe Communist Party, Ngqabutho Nicholas said ouitside the court that Mugabe needed anger-management training
The police source said she had earlier agreed to hand herself over at 10am, but failed to do so.
The source said police were investigating a charge of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
Asked if the Zimbabwean first lady was now considered a fugitive, the source said that was not the case at this stage.
Her close ally and Zimbabwe's higher education minister, Jonathan Moyo, tweeted:
One cannot be a fugitive for not appearing at a court to which they have not been summoned & when they have not been charged of any crime! https://t.co/QUuFblcHM2— Prof Jonathan Moyo (@ProfJNMoyo) August 15, 2017
South African media said Mugabe had been in the country to have an injured foot examined. It was unclear whether she was travelling on a diplomatic passport.
'She will be charged'
On whether she could be arrested despite having diplomatic immunity, Mbalula said: "All those implications will be taken into consideration." He then added: "She will be charged."
A Zimbabwean intelligence source said Mugabe had been travelling on an ordinary non-diplomatic passport and was in South Africa on personal business.
Mugabe's two sons were kicked out of the Regent luxury apartment complex in Sandton last month after an incident in the middle of the night, staff at the complex told Reuters.
Regent manager Imelda Fincham did not elaborate but confirmed the pair had left. "They're no longer here," she said.
In 2009, a press photographer in Hong Kong said Grace and her bodyguard had assaulted him. Police there said the incident was reported but that no charges were brought.
President Mugabe spoke at a public event marking Defence Forces Day in Harare on Tuesday, but did not mention Grace.
Grace was in the news in late July when she challenged her husband to name his preferred successor.
The issue of who will succeed Mugabe has deeply divided Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF party. One faction supports Grace and the other Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is recovering in a South African hospital after he fell ill and was airlifted from Zimbabwe. Some have speculated that he was poisoned.