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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X


DYANI-MHANGO, Ntombizozuko. Revisiting personal immunities for incumbent foreign heads of state in South Africa in light of the Grace Mugabe decision. Afr. hum. rights law j. [online]. 2021, vol.21, n.2, pp.1135-1156. ISSN 1996-2096.

In the Grace Mugabe decision in which the conclusion was arrived at that Grace Mugabe was not entitled to spousal immunity by virtue of being the wife of the then incumbent foreign head of state, Vally J remarked that the late former President Mugabe would not have been entitled to immunity had he been accused of committing the assault. This article analyses this remark and its potential negative impact on South Africa's relationship with other African states. The analysis is valuable as South Africa has positioned itself as being a human rights state that strives to play a significant role in peace making in Africa and consistently has argued that removing customary international law immunity, to which foreign heads of state are entitled, may undermine these intentions. The article examines South Africa's position on personal immunity for foreign heads of state in customary international law against the backdrop of the Mugabe decision. It argues that as it currently stands South African law recognises absolute personal immunity for foreign heads of state in cases not relating to the perpetration of international crimes.

Keywords : Grace Mugabe; personal immunities; foreign heads of state; state immunity; customary international law; Foreign States Immunities Act; Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act; separation of powers.

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