MASERU — The next time you get into a “4+1” taxi or a kombi, look around because the person sitting next to you might be a High Court judge.
Whereas other judges are chauffeur-driven in luxurious Mercedes-Benz vehicles, High Court judge ‘Maseforo Mahase has been reduced to pushing and shoving for a place in public taxis.
Like ordinary citizens do Justice Mahase — who joined the High Court bench in 2005 — has to squeeze in the “4+1” taxis when going to work in the morning and back home in the evening.
It does not matter that the ordinary citizens she has to share lifts with might include dangerous criminals on bail and whose cases she might be presiding over.
It does not matter too that in the public might be ex-convicts who she might have sent to prison.
A week ago, Justice Mahase said during a court hearing: “We are supposed to reconvene at 2:30 but I am not sure if I will make it because I rely on lifts from other judges.”
This statement prompted the Sunday Express to investigate how an esteemed judge could have been reduced to hitchhiking.
A judge is equivalent to a cabinet minister in state hierarchy.
It would thus raise eyebrows to see a government minister flagging down a “4+1” taxi or jostling for a place in a kombi.
Justice Mahase has been doing exactly that for the past two months, this paper can exclusively reveal.
Yet an official chauffeur-driven vehicle for a judge is not a privilege but a mandatory requirement stipulated by the Constitution of Lesotho.
According to Section 118 of the constitution, a High Court judge must be provided with an official vehicle and a driver for it.
In fact, contracts signed by judges when they are appointed also say they are supposed to have a chauffeur-driven vehicle.
The official car for judges in this country is a Mercedes-Benz.
In case of a breakdown, they are provided with a hired vehicle.
The Sunday Express can reveal that Justice Mahase has been using taxis or begging for lifts from fellow judges or High Court staff because her official car, which broke down on October 25 this year, has not yet been fixed.
When Justice Mahase’s official car broke down, according to a highly placed source, a relief car was not immediately hired for her.
Neither did she get a replacement car from Avis Fleet Management, a company that has been managing government vehicles since 2007.
Since then she has been hitchhiking.
Justice Mahase has an official home provided by the state in Maseru West but investigations have revealed that she has recently started spending more time at her in-laws’ home in Khubetsoana.
This is where she has been spending her nights for the past few months.
Around 6am every morning, Justice Mahase walks to Main North 1 Road from where she flags down a taxi to go to her office at the High Court.
When contacted for comment, Justice Mahase refused to speak saying she was not allowed to give interviews to newspapers.
But High Court sources told this paper that for the past two months she has been struggling to get her vehicle fixed or at least get one hired for her to use in the meantime.
High Court authorities are aware of her plight but nothing has been done for her, said a source at the Palace of Justice.
She uses public transport to go to church, funerals, weddings and shopping.
The sources said about a week after her car broke down, Justice Mahase was allocated another car, a Toyota Camry, to use while her Mercedes-Benz was being fixed.
However, a few days later the relief car broke down while she was travelling from South Africa.
The sources said she was with her children and they spent hours on the roadside near Ladybrand while waiting for help from Maseru.
And when help did arrive, one of the sources said, it was in the form of a VW Golf that had been sent by Avis Fleet Management to tow the Toyota Camry back to Maseru.
She and her children returned home in the vehicle that was being towed, according to the sources.
On Friday, a Sunday Express news crew followed the judge as she left her official home in Maseru West for Khubetsoana.
Clutching a plastic bag, a handbag and a huge envelope probably containing important documents, Justice Mahase flagged down a “4+1” taxi and jumped in.
It was just about 5pm.
The news crew then followed her taxi through the pick-hour congestion until she reached Khubetsoana some 20 minutes later.
The car that has given Justice Mahase this nightmare was previously used by Justice Baptist Molai who has since retired from the bench.
Sources at Imperial Fleet Management, which used to manage government vehicles before its contract ended, said the car had always had problems.
The Sunday Express understands the car has been in and out of the garage for repairs over the years.
Justice Mahase is wife to Thabiso Mahase, one of the men who fled the country in 2007 after being accused of attacking cabinet ministers’ homes and allegedly disarming their bodyguards.
Since then her husband has remained in exile in South Africa.
In 2007, Justice Mahase’s house was searched by the police who reportedly alleged that they were looking for firearms they suspected to have been hidden there by her husband.
Justice Mahase is best known for her ruling on the challenge by National Independent Party leader Anthony Manyeli against the Independent Electoral Commission’s decison to deny his list for proportional representation seats in favour of the one submitted by a faction led by his deputy, the late Dominic Motikoe.
She ruled in favour of Manyeli but her judgment was overturned on appeal at the Court of Appeal.
Justice Mahase also ruled that the late Makotoko “Mashai” Lerotholi and others who were being held on allegations of treason connected to the attacks on ministers’ homes be released.
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