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Ramodibedi fired as chief justice

by Sunday Express
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ramodibedi. . . arrives in Maseru today alongside two Swazi ministers to meet King Letsie III tomorrow

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

JUSTICE Michael Ramodibedi arrives in Lesotho today following his dismissal as Swaziland’s Chief Justice on Wednesday for alleged abuse of power.

He is expected to be accompanied by a delegation comprising, among others, Swaziland’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, and Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Edgar Hillary.

The delegation, including Justice Ramodibedi, is set to meet King Letsie III tomorrow morning to deliver a special message from King Mswati III which the Sunday Express understands relates to the charges the judge was facing.

Justice Ramodibedi was appointed Acting Judge of the Appeal Court of Swaziland in 2006, and assumed the position of Acting Chief Justice of Swaziland in 2010. He was confirmed to the position in 2011 and re-appointed indefinitely in 2012.

At the same time, Justice Ramodibedi was Lesotho’s Court of Appeal president — a position he assumed in 2008 and relinquished in April 2014 after losing a court case against his impeachment for possible abuse of office by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

While at the helm of Swaziland’s judiciary, Justice Ramodibedi had numerous clashes with the Law Society of Swaziland and the local media over the way he was overseeing the country’s judiciary.

However, on 17 April this year, the High Court of Swaziland issued a warrant for the judge’s arrest for charges related to abuse of office. But instead of surrendering to the relevant authorities, Justice Ramodibedi locked himself in his home for 37 days from the date the arrest warrant was issued, arguing he was immune to prosecution because of the position he held.

After exhausting all efforts to make the judge leave his mansion, the Swazi government decided to suspend the arrest warrant and ordered the judge to appear before a special Judicial Service Commission (JSC) committee starting 25 May 2015.

The judge could, however, not attend the full hearing citing ill-health, but the JSC still went ahead with the trial with Justice Ramodibedi’s lawyer in attendance.

Justice Ramodibedi, however, tried to block the JSC’s findings from reaching King Mswati III, but his application was dismissed on 12 June by the High Court.

On 17 June, King Mswati sacked Justice Ramodibedi, but dropped all the charges he was facing. The judge was then allowed to leave Swaziland hence his arrival, alongside his entourage, in Maseru today.

According to Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane, the decision to allow Justice Ramodibedi to leave Swaziland without being charged came after “cordial” talks and correspondence between King Letsie III and King Mswati.

Mr Sekhamane yesterday told the Sunday Express: “Much as I will not go into details of the letter that His Majesty King Letsie III wrote to his counterpart His Majesty King Mswati III last month, the fact of the matter is that Justice Ramodibedi’s coming to Lesotho was a result of that cordial communication.

“In other words, despite all the sensational headlines about Judge Ramodibedi having been fired in Swaziland, it is worth mentioning that, actually, this has been a soft landing for that powerful Mosotho judge who, despite this saga, has made us proud by flying the Lesotho flag high with his legal practice experience abroad.

“His Majesty King Letsie III, pursuant to the government of Lesotho, intervened in Judge Ramodibedi’s saga and wrote a letter to King Mswati III. I am the one who was assigned to head a delegation that went to submit the letter to King Mswati III. “And because of the cordial relations between the two Kings and, of course, governments, King Mswati III has accordingly relieved Judge Ramodibedi of his position as the Swazi Chief Justice and the charges which he faced were also dropped. As we speak, he has already left Swaziland and is somewhere in South Africa. He will soon come home to Lesotho, where he belongs.”

The minister confirmed tomorrow’s meeting between the Swaziland delegation and King Letsie III, adding: “The Swaziland delegation and Justice Ramodibedi will meet His Majesty King Letsie III on Monday. I am not in a position to know exactly what the delegation’s agenda is with the King.

“But what I can confirm is that the message, which King Mswati III is going to deliver to King Letsie III through the delegation, relates to Justice Ramodibedi.”

According to yesterday’s Swazi media reports, Justice Ramodibedi was on Friday seen “packing his bags” and handing over government property he had been using. The reports further noted the judge was accompanied by his elder son, Napo, who is based in South Africa.

His wife, Janet, according to the reports, was also at the scene as police officers stood by making sure that “everything went well”.

Mr Sekhamane yesterday said it was because of the “cordial talks” between the two Kings that criminal charges against Justice Ramodibedi were dropped by the Swazi authorities “in an effort to maintain good diplomatic relations between the two Kingdoms”.

In the meantime, King Mswati III’s decision to “forgive” the former chief justice has been hailed as “a diplomatic masterstroke” by the Swazi media. The Swazi government, according to the same media reports, is now expected to pay Justice Ramodibedi his pension and let bygones be bygones.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife in Maseru that government intends to reinstate Justice Ramodibedi as president of the Lesotho Court of Appeal, and remove the incumbent Justice Kananelo Mosito, whose appointment to the post in January this year has since been challenged before the courts by the Attorney General (AG).

The AG was arguing Dr Thabane did not follow proper procedure when he made the appointment in January this year, but lost the case before the Court of Appeal last week.

Asked if government intended to reemploy Justice Ramodibedi, Mr Sekhamane yesterday told the Sunday Express: “As a minister, I’m always available where government issues are discussed and decisions are made. There has been nowhere, at any level in government, where it was indicated whether or not Ntate Ramodibedi will be reinstated or given any other position in government. However, this answer should not mean that the government will not reinstate Ntate Ramodibedi. I am just showing you that it has never been discussed at that level.”

Brief background of Justice Ramodibedi

BORN 24 April 1945 in Lesobeng, Thaba-Tseka, Justice Ramodibedi completed his secondary education in 1967 at Eagle’s Peak High School in Qacha’s Nek. He is married and has five children. He began practising as a lawyer in 1974 after graduating from the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. In 1986, he was named a judge of the High Court of Lesotho and served in the courts of several Commonwealth countries in Africa, including the Seychelles and Botswana.

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