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Appeal Court boss under fire

Tefo Tefo

MASERU — Justice Michael Ramodibedi lives on three incomes.
Apart from being the president of Lesotho’s Court of Appeal he is also the Chief Justice of Swaziland.
He also gets allowances for sitting on Botswana’s Supreme Court bench.
But his income could soon take a knock because lawyers in Swaziland are demanding that he be suspended as the country’s chief justice.
Nearly 100 lawyers passed a resolution to push for Justice Ramodibedi’s suspension during a special meeting of the Law Society of Swaziland on Wednesday.
The meeting was attended by lawyers from private law firms, the Director of Public Prosecutions Office (DPP), Attorney General’s (AG) chambers and corporate world, according to the government-linked Swazi Observer newspaper.
The lawyers accuse Justice Ramodibedi of bringing the judiciary into disrepute after he suspended senior High Court judge Thomas Masuku for allegedly insulting King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, in a 2010 judgment.
A fortnight ago Justice Ramodibedi suspended Justice Masuku, charging him with 12 offences which included having used the phrase “forked-tongued” in a 2010 ruling involving King Mswati III.
Justice Ramodibedi also accuses Justice Masuku of disrespecting him and supporting regime change forces that are calling for democratic reforms in Swaziland.
After passing the resolution on Wednesday the lawyers ratcheted up the pressure by boycotting the courts on Friday.
Instead of attending court the lawyers gathered outside the High Court building in Mbabane, Swaziland’s capital, insisting that Justice Ramodibedi must go because “he is not fit” to be the chief justice.
Law society president, Titus Mlangeni, told the Sunday Express that they are now planning to challenge Justice Ramodibedi’s decision to suspend the judge.
He said they were drafting court papers seeking the High Court to set aside Justice Ramodibedi’s decision to suspend Justice Masuku.
“We are basically challenging his (Justice Ramodibedi’s) administrative decision to suspend Justice Masuku on allegations of misconduct.
“We have not yet filed the application in the High Court because we are still preparing papers as well as instructing a lawyer to handle the case,” Mlangeni said.
“We hope to file soon because we believe it needs urgent attention.”
Mlangeni said the law society was busy compiling complaints against Justice Ramodibedi and “they keep coming forth”.
He said if the allegations, which he was reluctant to tabulate, are proved true “relevant measures would be taken”.
“I cannot elaborate on the allegations because it is an issue that touches on the constitution.”
But regarding allegations that Justice Ramodibedi should leave because he is not fit for the job Mlangeni said: “Well that’s another way to look at it but I can only say it is improper to disclose that information now.”
Mlangeni added that the suspension of Justice Masuku by the Chief Justice “is only a sign of a bigger picture”.
Justice Ramodibedi was brought in last month by King Mswati III to become chief justice.
One of his first acts was an order preventing anyone from “directly or indirectly” suing the king.
That decision was roundly criticised by lawyers in that country. Attorney Thuli Makama told the AFP news agency that under Ramodibedi Swaziland’s judiciary had lost integrity.
“You see in-fighting amongst judges. We are losing the integrity of the courts in the eyes of the public,” he said.
Justice Ramodibedi has also come under fire for his frequent absences from the country.
When the row over his decision to suspend Justice Masuku erupted he was in Botswana hearing cases in the Supreme Court.
The chairman of Swaziland’s Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations, Musa Hlope, told the AFP the judge’s suspension was outrageous.
“If one reads these charges you can see somebody is painting (Justice) Masuku as a bad guy in the eyes of the king,” Hlope said.
The Swazi monarchy banned political parties about 40 years ago and has resisted opposition calls to introduce multi-party democracy.
In April, police fired teargas to break up pro-democracy protests organised by trade unions.
King Mswati III was crowned in 1986 at the age of 18, succeeding his long-serving father King Sobhuza II.
The row over Justice Ramodibedi comes at a time when King Mswati III’s government is battling to secure a bailout from neighbouring South Africa to deal with the financial crisis that has brought government operations to a screeching halt.
The country of nearly one million people is struggling to pay salaries or keep state hospitals functioning.
Since April, the country has faced a series of rare protests by civil servants who were angered by moves to slash their salaries.

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