MASERU — Justice Michael Ramodibedi has come under a fierce attack from the civil society in Swaziland — where he is the chief justice — for his decision to suspend a senior High Court judge.
Justice Ramodibedi, who is also the president of Lesotho’s Court of Appeal and sits on the appeals bench in Botswana, suspended Justice Justice Thomas Masuku under controversial circumstances two weeks ago.
He accused Justice Masuku of insulting King Mswati III, having an affair with a fellow judge and supporting people calling for democracy in Swaziland.
He alleges that Justice Masuku disrespected him.
But his decision has triggered a blistering reaction from a group of civic groups that says his actions have undermined judicial independence in Swaziland.
In a statement last weekend the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations accused Justice Ramodibedi of allowing “his position as independent custodian of the law to not only be questionable but to descend to the lowest ebb, competing with only Zimbabwe in the region”.
It said it was angered by the “underhanded, petty and vindictive” manner in which Justice Ramodibedi had treated Justice Masuku.
“It completes an already dreadful pattern of contemptible and obsequious actions and decisions by the chief justice who has abused his powers by attacking a free press, a supposedly sovereign parliament and those judges who are prepared to consider the merits of the facts of a case rather than who the litigants are or how close they are to government and the royal family.”
The coalition said Justice Ramodibedi’s treatment of “fellow judges in the same language as Boers treated their farmhands was a disgusting insult to Swazi lawyers and judges and showed his contempt for the constitutional norms of an independent judiciary”.
“This is the chief justice that was happy to grant a one-sided injunction against parliament by the prime minister who was acting as an individual over his unreasonable and unethical attempts at self-enrichment through buying land at a heavy discount when acting as PM. Without a robust parliament we cannot have democracy.”
“The CJ and his registrar, Lorraine Hlophe, have ridden roughshod over the notions of independence. They have tried to sideline capable judges such as Thomas Masuku and Qinisile Mabuza into trying only criminal cases and not the mixed case load of criminal and civil that in normal Swazi practice every other judge has. Without an independent administration of judiciary we cannot have a democracy.”
It further said the charges against Justice Masuku are so obviously frivolous that “they are the signs of a man, an institution and a system of governance that are so out of touch with ordinary people and reality that they have again demonstrated that they never had any credibility as a democratic government”.
“In one simple move, the chief justice has attempted to undermine the constitution, parliament and the judiciary.”
“In our opinion, he has brilliantly succeeded in showing to the world the truth of the sham of the Swazi constitution. It is an instrument of oppression, not transformation and the chief justice is proving to be its chief whip and apologist,” stated the coalition.
This is not the first time that Justice Ramodibedi has come under fire in Swaziland.
When he was still the acting chief justice in 2009 he was criticised for calling himself Makhulu baas.
The coalition said this was “an outdated, racist epithet that should never, ever be heard coming from the lips of a liberated African, never mind a chief justice”.
Additional reporting by Botswana’s Sunday Standard