Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, at his birthday party in Masvingo in February last year. Picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Cape Town - South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance on Thursday said it would go to court to block any attempt by the government to grant asylum to deposed Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace.

James Selfe, the chairman of the DA's federal executive, said the party had written to President Jacob Zuma and his foreign minister to warn that taking in Mugabe would be an illegal act in terms of local refugee legislation.

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"The DA has today written to President Jacob Zuma and relevant Ministers, to put them on terms to not entertain granting President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, or his wife, Grace Mugabe, political asylum in South Africa. We believe that to do so would be illegal and in contravention of the Refugees Act (130 of 1998)."

Selfe said the law defined asylum as refugee status, and excluded anybody who had committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, or acts in contravention of the principles espoused by the United Nations. 

He said Mugabe's record during Zimbabwe's liberation war and his dictatorial 37-year presidency meant he would not qualify for refugee status.

"Mr Mugabe’s hands are far from clean and there is clear 'reason to believe' that he orchestrated a series of massacres, known as the Gukurahundi, against the Ndebele people in the early 1980’s.

"Furthermore, he has presided over the violent oppression, arrest and targeting of opposition members throughout the better part of the last two decades and culminating with Zimbabwean opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrawing from the 2008 election, citing a campaign of violence against his supporters which made free and fair elections impossible."

Mugabe stepped down on Tuesday. He bowed to pressure from the military who seized control of Harare after he sacked his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Reports have said that for the moment Mugabe remained in Harare, where Mnangagwa is expected to be sworn in as president on Friday.