MASERU – Lesotho’s Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi says the allegations levelled against him in Swaziland, where he is also the chief justice, are lies meant to tarnish his image.
He told the Sunday Express this week that his enemies in Swaziland ganged up against him soon after he was appointed the country’s acting chief justice in 2009.
Justice Ramodibedi, who is also a Supreme Court judge in Botswana, came under fire in Swaziland following the suspension of Justice Thomas Masuku three weeks ago on 12 charges.
The charges include insulting King Mswati III, insubordination, having an affair with a fellow judge as well as supporting calls for democratic change in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
After Justice Masuku’s suspension lawyers and civic groups called for Justice Ramodibedi’s removal and started compiling what they said were complaints to justify why they thought he is “not fit” to be chief justice.
Last week the Law Society of Swaziland submitted the complaints which include allegations that Justice Ramodibedi had sexually harassed five female colleagues, taken foreign trips
to South Africa without approval and lived large on state funds.
But in an interview on Friday Justice Ramodibedi said all those allegations were unfounded.
The allegations that he sexually harassed colleagues are baseless, he said.
Justice Ramodibedi said he did not understand why he is being vilified for taking trips to Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg using his official vehicle.
“As the chief justice I have an official car that has been given to me for my official use,” he said.
“Where I go with that car is not anyone’s problem.”
He explained that he had frequently travelled to Pietermaritzburg because his child was attending school there.
“Recently I have been travelling to Johannesburg because my child is now attending school there. There is nothing wrong with that”.
He denied that his recent directive stopping Swazis from suing their king was an attempt to insulate the royal family from legal proceedings.
“I did not invent that directive. It was based on the country’s constitution which clearly says that the king cannot be sued,” he said.
Section 11 of the Swazi constitution says the king is immune to being “sued or legal process in any cause in respect of all things done or omitted to be done by him”.
It also states that the king shall not be “summoned to appear as a witness in any civil or criminal proceedings”.
Justice Ramodibedi, who is currently in Botswana where he is hearing appeals, said he does not understand why he is being attacked for “merely following the constitution”.
“I did not write that constitution. That’s just the way the constitution is.”
He said he issued the directive after he realised that Swazi “lawyers were harassing the king with lawsuits despite what the constitution says”.
He said he was a victim of a group of lawyers who are “extremely politicised” and are hostile to any appointment of foreigners in their judiciary.
“I am being seen as the stumbling block to their political ambitions. That is why they want me out,” Justice Ramodibedi who also worked in Seychelles as appeal court president said.
The allegations that he had targeted Justice Masuku were far from the truth because he is not the one who suspended him in the first place, Justice Ramodibedi said.
“The suspension of that judge was in a gazette that was signed by the king. I did not suspend him.”
He said the country’s Judiciary Services Commission, for which he is a chairman, has been tasked to deal with Justice Masuku’s matter.
“The commission (JSC) is not putting him for trial. It’s an investigation.”
Justice Ramodibedi said he views the current accusations thrown at him as an attempt to disrupt the investigation into allegations against Justice Masuku.
“They are doing this because I am the chairman of the commission. The plan is to discredit me before the investigation gets underway,” he added.
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