23 May 2024 | 08:48 AM

Lesotho’s Ramodibedi rising back to the top?

Key Takeaways

Rumours are flying in Lesotho that disgraced judge MichaelRamodibedi – considered a close ally of Lesotho’s new prime minister PakalithaMosilili – could be reinstated as the country’s Court of Appeal president .

But Lesotho’s legal fraternity indicated this week thatit would resist any move to reinstate him after his dismissal as Swaziland’schief justice last month and earlier moves to impeach him as the head ofLesotho’s apex court.

King Mswati, his former promoter and protector, dismissedhim on the recommendation of Swaziland’s Judicial Service Commission. He allegedly faced charges after an investigation by thecountry’s Anti-Corruption Commission.

Allowed to leave Swaziland after the charges were dropped,he is now thought to be living in Ladybrand in the Free State, just across theLesotho border.

Speculation about his possiblereinstatement as the head of Lesotho’s Appeal Court was fuelled by Lesothoforeign minister Tlohang Sekhamane’s extraordinary statement last week that “despiteall the sensational headlines about Judge Ramodibedi having been fired inSwaziland”, there had been “a soft landing for that powerful Mosotho judge who,despite this saga, has made us proud by flying the Lesotho flag high with hislegal practice experience abroad”.

Sekhamane is said to have intervened to have charges droppedagainst him in Swaziland.

As the Swazi chief justice from 2011 Ramodibediwas at the centre of repeated controversies, including a protest strike bySwazi lawyers and the jailing of the country’s most respected editor

In his own country, he resigned his judicial position in anapparent move to stave off an impeachment process driven by former premier TomThabane over his alleged maladministration and abuse of office.

Lesotho’s new seven-party coalition government, headed byMosisili, has good reasons for wanting a sympathetic leader of the judiciary.It may be facing a slew of court cases, particularly relating to the killing offormer defence force head Maaparankoe Mahao.

Legal experts in Lesotho, who spoke anonymously, alleged thatsome of Lesotho’s coalition government partners had been trying to find ways ofcreating a vacancy in the Court of Appeal for Ramodibedi to fill.

However, it had been pointed out to them that the court’s currentpresident, Kananelo Mosito, was innocent of any misconduct warranting removaland that his position is protected by the constitution.

The president of the Lesotho Law Society, Shale Shale, toldamaBhungane that the society would have reservations about any move toreinstate Ramodibedi.

Shale was, however, quick to say there had been no formalcommunication from government indicating such intentions.

“We have only heard rumours about his possible return, butit is not clear exactly what position he would assume, Appeal Court president orChief Justice.

“We will have to wait to see what transpires, as there are substantivepeople in those positions. The Law Society would need convincing reasons for [Ramodibedi’s]reappointment, as he has issues that have tainted his image, including maladministrationof funds and an alleged insurance fraud case.

“We are aware of other charges he was facing in Swaziland.We would not want someone with such a record at the helm of the judiciary andwould protest against his appointment.”

Current appeal court head Kananelo Mosito said: “Nothing hascome my way to give me any impression about [Ramodibdi’s] reinstatement; Idon’t know anything.”

Sekhamane told a Lesotho’s Sunday Express that the decision to allow Ramodibedi safe passage outof Swaziland without being charged followed “cordial” talks and correspondencebetween Mswati and Lesotho’s King Letsie.

He suggested that Mosisili’s governmenthad prompted the contact between the two monarchs, saying it was “pursuant tothe government of Lesotho”.

 “Becauseof the cordial relations between the two Kings and, of course, governments,  King Mswati III accordingly relieved JudgeRamodibedi of his position as the Swazi Chief Justice and the charges which hefaced were also dropped.”

Contacted for comment, Lesotho’s minister in the Prime Minister’s office, Kimetso Mathaba, defended his government’sdecision to broker Ramodibedi’s safe passage home saying all it had done waswas to “ensure his safe return”.

He said he knew of claims that he is to bereappointed to the Lesotho judiciary, but that that the coalition governmenthad not even discussed the issue.

Numerous attempts to get hold ofRamodibedi were fruitless, as his mobile phone went unanswered.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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