What is diplomatic immunity?

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File: Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe has denied seizing three properties from a Lebanese businessman who she claims duped her in a messy $1.35-million diamond ring deal.

JOHANNESBURG - Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe has sought diplomatic immunity in South Africa, where she is under investigation for the assault of a 20-year-old model in an upmarket hotel, South African police said on Wednesday.

The 52-year-old wife of Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe failed to appear at a court hearing on Tuesday relating to allegations she attacked Gabriella Engels with an electric extension cord.

According to police, Grace Mugabe had initially agreed to hand herself over but never showed up. 

Engels' mother Debbie said her daughter received 14 stitches on her head after Sunday's assault and demanded Mugabe face justice.

Grace Mugabe has a history of violence. 

President Mugabe jetted into South Africa last night, arriving early for the SADC summit in Pretoria, fuelling speculation that he will be dealing with the aftermath of the furore surrounding his wife. 

WATCH: Mugabe lands in South Africa amid Grace's drama

With Mugabe seeking exemption from prosecution, eNCA.com looks at what diplomatic immunity is.

What is diplomatic immunity and who gets it?

Diplomatic immunity is the protection from arrest, lawsuit or prosecution that is afforded to visiting heads of state, foreign politicians and diplomats.

It is a privilege that is also extended to their family and/or those accompanying them.

The current international diplomatic immunity was structured as international law at the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in 1961.

Diplomatic relations between countries

During periods of difficulties and armed conflict, diplomatic immunity allows for the maintenance of government interaction.

Can it be revoked?

It can be revoked by the person’s country of origin dependent on the crime that the person has committed or is a witness to.

Another possibility is for the person to face prosecution in their home country.