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Frustrated Chief Magistrate mulls early retirement

Mohalenyane Phakela

FRUSTRATED with being constantly overlooked for promotion to become a judge, long-serving magistrate, ‘Matankiso Nthunya, has given up on her dream to sit on the High Court bench and now intends to retire after 29 years in the lower courts.

The vastly experienced Ms Nthunya, who is currently chief magistrate, says it is every legal practitioner’s dream to end up on the High Court bench. But after years of being overlooked by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and successive chief justices, she feels that she must quit and venture into new territory as an activist against human trafficking and terrorism.

She joined the judiciary in January 1991 as a prosecutor immediately after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Law from the National University of Lesotho (NUL). She was appointed a magistrate in December 1991. Three years later she went back to NUL and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. Upon her return to the bench she was promoted to second class magistrate and then to first class magistrate in 1998.

She worked in Butha-Buthe where she was promoted to Resident Magistrate and in 2001, she was promoted to Senior Resident Magistrate in Leribe.

In 2004 she enrolled with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and subsequently graduated with Master’s Degree in Medical Law in 2006.

Her milestone came in 2006 when she was elevated to the post of chief magistrate, a position she holds to this day. She told the Sunday Express this week that although she is still in good health and only in her early 50s, she thinks it is time to call it quits because it is highly unlikely her dream to serve in the High Court will ever be realised. She did not say when she will hand in her resignation letter.

Ms Nthunya has worked with the likes of Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase as well as Justices Thamsanqa Nomngcongo, Molefi Makara, Moroke Mokhesi, Lisebo Chaka-Makhooane and Polo Banyane before they were all promoted to become High Court judges. Seeing her former colleagues promoted while she remained in the same position for 14 years has probably added to her conviction that she may never be promoted after all.

“I have held the position of chief magistrate for 14 years after serving in the magistrates’ court since 1991. I feel I have done my part and it is time to retire,” Ms Nthunya said, adding, “I qualify for early retirement since I’m now over 50 years old”.

“I feel that I have overstayed in this position and that does not motivate my juniors to seek promotion to this position because it has not been vacant for many years.

“It is true that I wanted to be a High Court judge because it is every legal practitioner’s dream to become one. However, I do not see that happening and I have given up on that dream.

“High Court judges are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) after recommendations by the chief justice. They just randomly pick whoever they want and I am not sure what they look for. I have made peace with the fact that I will not make it to the High Court anymore.

“I am over 50 now and I want to do something else before I get to 60. While at this job, I learned that although terrorism is not a problem in this country, its existence can’t be ruled out. I also think Lesotho is a gateway for money laundering activities due to our porous borders. I want to start a career looking into such issues. It is a dangerous route but I find it intriguing,” said Ms Nthunya, who is highly regarded as a competent professional in Lesotho’s legal circles.

 

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