King pleads for justice and rule of law
HIS Majesty King Letsie III has made an impassioned plea to politicians, the judiciary and legal practitioners to rededicate themselves to ensuring justice and the rule of law as a fitting tribute to the late former Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi.
His Majesty said this while addressing mourners at the memorial service for the late Justice Ramodibedi who succumbed to colon cancer on 14 August 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The memorial service was held at the Maseru Golf Club on Friday and it was graced by the Ramodibedi family, Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, judges, government officials, members of the diplomatic corps and hundreds of other mourners.
King Letsie III to the late Justice Ramodibedi, saying he considered himself “fortunate” to have known the former apex court who “discharged his duties well”. His Majesty also urged politicians and the judiciary to emulate Justice Ramodibedi by rededicate themselves to serving justice.
“Ntate Ramodibedi has departed from this world after a long service and my plea to all Basotho especially to leaders, the judiciary and lawyers is let us rededicate ourselves to serve justice in our deliberations.
“Let us be just to respect law and constitutionalism in all forms,” the King said.
His Majesty commended Justice Ramodibedi for serving with dedication, humility, devotion and love for his country.
“I am not surprised that Ntate Ramodibedi declined to renounce his Lesotho citizenship to take that of Swaziland to save his job (where he served from 2006 to 2015). He (Justice Ramodibedi) was always proud and fond of talking about his home in Lesobeng.
“He (Justice Ramodibedi) used to come to Matsieng to visit one of my uncles, Morena Hlomelang Lerotholi.
“Ntate Ramodibedi was also fond of Matlama Football Cub and he was one time chairman of the club. However, I did not support this club as I had mine. Nevertheless we still got on well with him,” His Majesty said.
Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase also paid tribute to the late Justice Ramodibedi who was buried in Ladybrand yesterday.
“He (Justice Ramodibedi) served on the bench with distinction and industry so much so much that it pleased His Majesty to elevate him to the bench of the Court of Appeal in April 2000 and he sat there permanently,” Justice Mahase said.
She said Justice Ramodibedi was also an enthusiastic sports administrator.
“Little wonder then that from 1974 to 1983 he was chairman of Matlama Football Club.
“Under his sterling leadership, Matlama reached the quarter finals of the African Cup of Champions, a feat that no other domestic club has emulated,” Justice Mahase said.
High Court judge Justice Semapo Peete said as a tribute to trailblazing judges like Justice Ramodibedi, Lesotho had to do more to avoid overdependence on foreign judges.
Justice Peete made it clear that Lesotho should have its own judges. He however, added, “I am not against foreign judges coming and it is not my intention to rock the boat”.
“We should meet the challenges that face us with statesmanship and selflessness. The challenges that must be solved are in the judiciary, executive and legislature and we must solve these so that our generation will applaud us,” Justice Peete said.
He described Justice Ramodibedi as a trail blazer and a “shooting star” from rural Lesobeng in the Thaba-Tseka district.
Despite some controversies in eSwatini where he was eventually sacked in 2015 and back home in Lesotho where he was impeached by then and current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Justice Peete said no one had a right to judge Justice Ramodibedi.
“He (Justice Ramodibedi) committed himself to the profession of law and took an oath to dispense justice, with impartiality, honesty, without fear and bias.
“No judge is perfect, we are all fallible. Nobody can judge Ntate Ramodibedi, he was a human being like anybody and we have no right to stand in his judgment when he is dead. We should be cognisant of his courageous spirit in the face of all odds,” Justice Peete said.
Speaking on behalf of the Ramodibedi, the late judge’s son, Napo, said his father was a giant who contributed immensely to the legal jurisprudence in Lesotho.
“He has made a contribution not only in Lesotho, but in Botswana, Swaziland other countries who needed him at the pinnacle of their judiciary.
“His great contribution to the judiciary is in the fight for the independence of the judiciary,” Napo Ramodibedi said.
The Principal Chief of Matsieng, Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, described Justice Ramodibedi as a giant who served the country without fear and favour.
“We should not be shy to speak truth to which Justice Ramodibedi in his humble way, contributed. He was at all times a humble gentleman with a smile, humility and selflessness. We proud of his legacy and we are not here to criticise or find fault with him,” Chief Seeiso said.
Born 24 April 1945 in Lesobeng, Thaba-Tseka, Justice Ramodibedi completed his secondary education in 1967 at Eagle’s Peak High School in Qacha’s Nek. He began practising as a lawyer in 1974 after graduating from the then University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. In 1986, he was appointed a judge of the High Court of Lesotho and he also served in the courts of several Commonwealth countries, including the Seychelles and Botswana.
Justice Ramodibedi was appointed Acting Judge of the Appeal Court of Eswatini in 2006 and later became Acting Chief Justice of Eswatini in 2010. He was confirmed to the position in 2011 and re-appointed indefinitely in 2012.
At the same time, Justice Ramodibedi was Lesotho’s Court of Appeal president — a position he assumed in 2008 and relinquished in April 2014 after losing a court case against his impeachment for alleged abuse of office by then and current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
In 2009 he was locked in a bitter fight with the then Chief Justice of Lesotho, Justice Mahapela Lehohla, over who should be the head of the judiciary in Lesotho.
While at the helm of Eswatini’s judiciary, Justice Ramodibedi had numerous clashes with the Law Society of Eswatini and the local media over the way he presided over that country’s judiciary.
On 17 April 2015, the High Court of Eswatini issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of abuse of office. But instead of surrendering to the relevant authorities, Justice Ramodibedi locked himself in his home for 37 days from the date the arrest warrant was issued, arguing he was immune to prosecution because of the position he held.
After exhausting all efforts to make the judge leave his mansion, the Eswatini government suspended the arrest warrant and ordered the judge to appear before a special Judicial Service Commission (JSC) committee on 25 May 2015.
Although he did not attend the hearing citing ill-health, the JSC proceeded with the matter with Justice Ramodibedi’s lawyer in attendance.
Justice Ramodibedi, however, tried to block the JSC’s findings from reaching Eswatini’s King Mswati III but his application was dismissed on 12 June 2015 by the High Court. On 17 June the same year, King Mswati sacked Justice Ramodibedi but dropped all the charges he was facing. Justice Ramodibedi left Eswatini for Lesotho on 21 June 2015. He is survived by wife and five children.