A newspaper in Swaziland reported on Monday (19 May 2014) that the controversial Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi had issued warrants for the arrest of three High Court Judges because they disagreed with his actions.
He was reported to be ready to appoint his own judges to replace those arrested.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, who appointed Ramodibedi, said the three judges were Justices Mumcy Dlamini, Bheki Maphalala and Mbutfo Mamba. At the time of this report (Monday 19 May 2014) police had not executed the warrants.
The Observer reported Ramodibedi allegedly issued the warrants last Friday. They were issued, it said because the CJ felt the judges were ‘ignoring his orders and bringing the High Court into disrepute’.
The newspaper reported, ‘According to a reliable source at the High Court, the Chief Justice alleges that Judge Bheki Maphalala is influencing his staff members not to take orders from him. Maphalala, according to the source, is spearheading a High Court rebellion.
‘Judge Mamba is alleged to have tried taking over the bail application of The Nation Editor Bheki Makhubu and Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Maseko.
‘This is alleged to have angered the CJ and he decided to have him also arrested. “Judge Mumcy is the number one enemy of the CJ. It is no surprise that she has been included in the list of those whose warrants of arrest were issued,” the source alleged.’
‘Judge Mumcy has on record ruled that the CJ erred in the way he issued the warrants of arrest that landed The Nation Editor Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko in jail. She released the duo but they were later re-arrested soon after gaining freedom.’
The newspaper added, ‘[The] CJ is alleged to have highlighted in his chambers that he no longer trusted most of the Judges of the High Court. This is alleged to have transpired when The Law Society of Swaziland wanted their application for the removal of Judge Mpendulo Simelane allocated a judge. The Chief Justice is alleged to have failed to allocate the matter and highlighted that he no longer trusted most of the judges.’
The Observer reported. ‘Should the warrants be effected and the judges arrested, the CJ is alleged to have planned to appoint interim judges who will deal with the Law Society, which wants a full bench to listen to their application calling for the firing of newly appointed Judge Mpendulo Simelane. The CJ is alleged to be afraid to have the three judges sit in the full bench and listen to the Judge Mpendulo case as they might rule against him.’
Ramodibedi is at the centre of a number of controversial decisions in Swaziland. Last week the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa reported that Ramodibedi has told Swazi judges that they have a constitutional duty to obey him. He has also ordered that judges could not hear cases against King Mswati III, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, or royal institutions.
The Mail and Guardian reported that Ramodibedi had a reputation for intimidation. He has intervened in the continuing trial against Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation magazine, who is in court on contempt of court charges after publishing articles critical of Ramodibedi and the Swazi judiciary.
The newspaper reported, ‘Ramodibedi’s interventions in the Makhubu trial, some of doubtful legality, are seen as driven by both a personal grudge and a desire to gratify Mswati. The treatment of Makhubu shows signs of vindictive overkill: armed police stormed his parents’ rural homestead and a heavily armed police guard escorted him from prison to court.
It added Ramodibedi laid two contempt charges against Makhubu.
‘Makhubu was denied bail as an alleged flight risk. Ramodibedi has also personally threatened the managing editor of the Swazi Observer with arrest if the newspaper continued to comment on the Makhubu trial,’ it said.