MISA-Swaziland | Alert
January 24 2014
The Times of Swaziland, a private daily newspaper in the landlocked southern African nation, has “unreservedly” apologised to Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi for publishing so-called “contemptuous” comments from its readers.
The apology comes amidst a developing saga involving government chief vehicle inspector Bhantshana Gwebu and High Court Judge (and colleague of Chief Justice Ramodibedi) Esther Ota.
Gwebu was arrested on January 20 2014 and charged with contempt of court after he, himself, arrested the driver of Judge Ota’s government vehicle.
Gwebu’s job is to make sure people using government vehicles only use them for authorised state business. It is alleged that Gwebu arrested the driver of the government vehicle for not following the authorised route. Many commentators believe Gwebu was simply doing his job.
“Gwebu has been charged with contempt of court after he arrested and charged a driver of High Court Judge Esther Ota,” reported the Times of Swaziland on January 21 2014.
“The Chief Justice on Saturday (January 18) issued a warrant for his arrest after he arrested and charged the driver, Vusi Tsela, next to Sifundzani Primary School on Saturday. Judge Ota was present when Gwebu arrested and charged Tsela for the alleged abuse of the government vehicle.”
It has also been revealed previously, in a separate case, that Bhantshana seized the Chief Justice’s car. In an opinion piece in the today’s Swazi Observer, journalist Ackel Zwane writes: “In his bravery Bhantshana went ahead to even seize Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi’s vehicle while he was on an outside trip. Surely this did not please the giant legal eagle and this time around the warrant of arrest was issued by the grand CJ.”
The current story has generated much debate in Swaziland.
Several unions — notably Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) — have sympathised with Bhantshana. Union leaders tried to visit Bhantshana, who is being held held in remand until his case is heard, earlier in the week but were denied access by the correctional services authorities.
In yesterday’s Times of Swaziland several comments appeared in the letters section, expressing their anger at the Chief Justice and the perceived flaws in the country’s justice system.
On the front page of today’s Times of Swaziland appeared the following apology:
“In our January 23 publication we published contemptuous Reader’s Comments from the Web. We wish to retract such comments (which cannot be repeated due to their very nature) and unreservedly apologise to the Honourable Chief Justice, as well as Her Ladyship Judge Ota and the entire Judiciary.”
It is unclear if is was a specific comment that sparked the apology and retraction, or whether it was several of the comments. It is also unclear whether political pressure was put on the Times of Swaziland to issue the apology.
The Bhantshana case is expected to begin on Monday.
Ramodibedi: No stranger to controversy
Chief Justice Ramodibedi is no stranger to controversy. He is currently facing a legal battle in his home country of Lesotho, where he is that country’s President of the Court of Appeal. In today’s Times of Swaziland it is reported that Ramodibedi is appealing a judgment of the Constitutional Court of Lesotho, which may lead to his impeachment as Court of Appeal President.
“Ramodibedi argues in his latest court papers that (Lesotho) Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s bid to advise King Letsie III to initiate a process to have him impeached should never have been launched without him being heard first.”
The court proceedings against Michael Ramodibedi continue in Lesotho.
Photo featured at front of post from Times of Swaziland, January 24 2014