7 October 2011
Swazi lawyers march over judge's sacking
Anti-government protest is gathering pace in Swaziland, with lawyers now taking to the street alongside labour unions, teachers, taxi drivers and banned political parties.
The kingdom's lawyers marched on Parliament this week following similar action in response to the sacking of respected high court Judge Thomas Masuku, who was accused by Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi of criticising King Mswati III and joining a toyi-toyi outside court.
Swaziland's veteran justice minister, David Matse, has also been sacked, allegedly because he objected to orders to remove the judge.
The dismissals follow months of judicial turmoil in the country. The lawyers have been boycotting the country's courts since August 1 in protest against the Judicial Service Commission and the chief justice, who led the moves against Masuku and whose recent directives included an order not to take legal action against the king or his associates.
Judge Masuku, who is known for his outspokenness, has previously been removed from the high court roll for "unfavourable" judgments.
One of the complaints against him was that he said the king had spoken with a "forked tongue". An inspection of the January 2011 judgment in question shows that this is incorrect. In a matter concerning the requisition of cattle, in which he ruled against the king's agents, he said: "It would be hard to imagine let alone accept … that his majesty could conceivably speak with a forked tongue, saying one thing to his people and then authorising his officers to do the opposite. I reject this notion as totally inaccurate."
In a joint statement the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Southern Africa Development Community Lawyers' Association and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre described the dismissals as "contempt for the rule of law and further debasement of Swaziland's system of governance".
They criticised Masuku's "clearly tainted disciplinary hearing" and said the initial charges of misconduct against him were "vague, unsubstantiated … and spurious".
Arnold Tsunga, director of the ICJ's Africa Programme told the Mail & Guardian: "We no longer have separations of power in Swaziland. There is no independent judiciary, judges are being fired and the situation is ripe for large-scale protest and violence. I hope the governments of the Southern African Development Community and South Africa can see these early warning signs."
To read the full Mail and Guardian report, click here.