Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi acted as judge, prosecutor and witness in the case he brought against High Court Judge Thomas Masuku yesterday (11 August 2011).
By this extraordinary action Ramodibedi showed the world that the rule of law does not exist in Swaziland, the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Masuku had been brought up on 12 charges, including that he tried to tout himself as a successor to Ramodibedi as chief justice; attacking the chief justice in a symposium in Lesotho; defying Ramodibedi’s directives regarding schedules of pending judgments; absenting himself from work without the chief justice’s permission and threatening Ramodibedi with resignation.
Other charges included insulting King Mswati III in a judgment and having an illicit love affair with another judge.
Yesterday’s disciplinary hearing of the Judicial Service Commission was held in private and details of what happened in it are unconfirmed. The Swaziland media have different accounts of what took place, but they do agree that five of the 12 charges were dropped.
One of these, according to the Times of Swaziland, was that Masuku had an illicit love affair. The female judge accused in this charge had threatened to sue Chief Justice Ramodibedi for defamation.
Other charges dropped were reported by the Swazi Observer to be: touting himself to be appointed chief justice; associating with those who want to bring about unlawful change in Swaziland; destabilising High Court judges and staff; and attacking the chief justice at a symposium in Lesotho.
Lawyers for Masuku argued that the chief justice should recuse himself from the hearing as he was personally involved in the case. He refused to do so and said he would give his reasons at a date yet to be set.
The hearing lasted about four hours and judgment has been reserved indefinitely.
Armed police were on duty around the High Court to ensure that the meeting remained private. A crowd of about 100 people, including lawyers, political activists and visiting foreign jurists, wanted to witness the hearing.
Masuku’s lawyers had asked for the meeting to be in public, but their request was denied.
JUDGE’S LETTER OF SUSPENSION IN FULL
SWAZI LAWYERS CHARGE CHIEF JUSTICE