HIGH Court judge Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane who died in Bloemfontein on 2 March 2019 after a long illness “was a fearless fighter for the rule of law and judicial independence” and even refused to be cowed or intimidated by the then commander of the Lesotho Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli.
This was said by the Acting Chief Justice, ‘Maseforo Mahase, in her address to mourners who gathered at the High Court in Maseru on Friday.
The mourners included the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Kananelo Mosito, judges, the Attorney-General, Haae Phoofolo and other members of the legal fraternity.
Addressing the mourners, Justice Mahase recalled how the late Justice Hlajoane refused to be cowed by Lt-Gen Kamoli who initially declined to appear in court to answer charges of contempt of court in connection with his failure to ensure the release of soldiers who had been detained over alleged mutiny.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is languishing in remand prison where he awaits trial for murder and attempted murder.
Lt-Gen Kamoli faces a murder charge stemming from the 30 August 2014 killing of Police Sub-Inspector, Mokheseng Ramahloko.
Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was shot and killed by soldiers during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014 at the Police Headquarters in Maseru. The soldiers who allegedly acted on the instructions of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli, also raided several other police stations in Maseru and seized an assortment of weapons.
Lt-Gen Kamoli also faces 14 counts of attempted murder in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
He is charged alongside Major Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.
At the height of his power, he was a feared military boss but according to Justice Mahase on Friday, his stature did not intimidate the late Justice Hlajoane who stood firm and ordered him to follow the rules of the court.
“Your Lordship and fellow mourners; Justice Hlajoane or “Chieftainess” was a fearless and indefatigable fighter for human rights and the rule of law and few among us can match her for resoluteness to stand firm in defence of these seminal concepts of our jurisprudence,” Justice Mahase said on Friday.
“She (Justice Hlajoane) was a fearless fighter for the rule of law and judicial independence who would not budge because of any misconduct or disrespect for these cardinal principles of law.
“At the height of his power, the then Commander of the LDF, Lt-Gen Kamoli sought to evade appearing before Honourable Judge Hlajoane on allegations of contempt of court for refusing to release his detained colleagues on charges of mutiny.
“He (Lt-Gen Kamoli) instead sent his most trusted lieutenants, a brigadier and a lieutenant-colonel to appear in court. But Judge Hlajoane dug in her proverbial heels and adjourned the court for two hours, ordering that the Commander himself should appear before the court.
“Indeed, and thanks to Honourable Hlajoane’s steadfastness, the commander eventually appeared before the court and he was sternly warned of the consequences of defying a legitimate court order,” added Justice Mahase.
“Honourable Madam Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane my senior and confidante has passed on and left a huge void difficult to fill. I expected she and I would walk together on this long and arduous route of guiding the judiciary to new heights but the Almighty decided. And as Christians, we have to accept that, she has had her innings as they would say in the sport of cricket.
“We shall ever forever mourn the loss of this great woman of our generation but we also feel privileged to have learned from her and reaped invaluable lessons from her wisdom, intellect, work ethic and integrity.”
In his remarks, Advocate Phoofolo described the late Justice Hlajoane as a “no-nonsense judge”.
“As lawyers we sometimes intimidate judicial officers to bow to our demands even though they are unreasonable and at times unlawful.
“The idea is to convince our clients that we know better than the judge and consequently to win applauses from the gathering but Justice Hlajoane would not have any of that.
“Indeed, she has left a legacy in the judiciary that makes us very proud as a nation although she has left us at a time when Lesotho needed a judge of her wisdom and integrity,” Adv Phoofolo said.
The late Justice Hlajoane is survived by two sons and a daughter.
Last week, her daughter, Nts’ebo Hlajoane said Justice Hlajoane fell sick last year. “The doctors found swelling and infection in her pancreas. She (Justice Hlajoane) had depression and from December to January she was physically unwell. Two weeks later, she was not speaking,” Ms Hlajoane said.