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Judge in Swaziland furore

Caswell Tlali
MASERU — Court of Appeal of Lesotho president Mathealira Ramodibedi — who is also Swaziland’s acting chief justice — is in the eye of a media storm in that kingdom.
According to reports from Swaziland, Justice Ramodibedi, 64, has banned judges from giving interviews to the media without his approval.
Justice Ramodibedi’s directive comes in the wake of a series of newspaper reports about an alleged fallout between himself and judges over the allocation of cases.
The Times of Swaziland reports that Justice Ramodibedi told invited guests at the opening of the High Court on Monday that he was the “Makhulu Baas” of the country’s judiciary.
He is said to have slammed, in a 20-page speech, media reports that portrayed him “as lacking credentials or as a confused man”.
“It would be remiss of me not to address a matter which has, no doubt, brought this court into disrepute,” the Times quoted Justice Ramodibedi as saying in its Tuesday edition.
“It is the scandalous publication by a local newspaper two weeks ago, bearing the sensational heading ‘CJ, judges clash.’
“Needless to say that we cannot all be chief justices at the same time . . . there can only be one Makhulu Baas at a time.”
Baas means boss in Afrikaans and Makhulu refers to a senior or elder in Swaziland’s indigenous language.
“In case some people did not know, the position of acting chief justice is a constitutional one. It is not subject to contest by any judge,” Justice Ramodibedi was quoted by the paper as saying.
“It is astonishing to read in the newspapers that there is a power struggle in the judiciary.
“This may explain why suddenly the acting chief justice is portrayed by one journalist as lacking credentials or as a confused man.”
After blasting the media, Justice Ramodibedi turned on the judges, according to the Times report.
“Lastly, I would like to state categorically that judges speak only in court,” he said, according to the paper.
“They do not conduct interviews with newspapers or the news media — certainly not without the approval of the chief justice.
“They are not politicians and should stay clear of politics.
“Indeed, they have no political constituencies.
“For the avoidance of doubt in the future, therefore, I take this opportunity to declare publicly that judges must first seek and obtain written permission from the chief justice before engaging in public discussions or before giving interviews to newspapers or the news media.”

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