Johannesburg - Swazi King Mswati III has fired his hand-picked chief justice, Lesotho national Michael Ramodibedi.
Mswati signed a legal notice that was given to Ramodibedi on Thursday night after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) concluded a dramatic impeachment inquiry that dominated local political and judicial developments for weeks.
“I King Mswati III… hereby remove chief justice Michael Mathealira Ramodibedi from the Office of Chief Justice of the High Court of Swaziland for serious misbehaviour,” a notice signed by Mswati stated. The dismissal message was accompanied by a letter from the JSC secretary ordering Ramodibedi to vacate a government mansion reserved for the chief justice. A new chief justice, Bheki Maphalala, the first Swazi to hold the position, was appointed two weeks ago.
The firing officially concluded the first impeachment process against Ramodibedi after his resignation last year as president of the Court of Appeal in Lesotho cut short impeachment proceedings against him in his native country.
But his firing will likely not end the drama that has played out since an arrest warrant was issued against Ramodibedi on April 17 on graft and abuse of power charges.
To avoid arrest, Ramodibedi locked himself in his government mansion for a month as Swazi officials liaised with their counterparts in Lesotho to resolve the impasse.
Swazi police said they were reluctant to take him by force, noting that he possessed two firearms and implying that his wife and son inside the house with him might be in danger.
According to testimony given to the JSC inquiry, Ramodibedi was the ringleader in a conspiracy to fix cases by predetermining judgments, while also defrauding the Swaziland Revenue Authority and turning the Swazi courts into his personal fiefdom.
“These are serious acts of misbehaviour by the CJ (Chief Justice) who is not fit for office. He is corrupt and stands to be condemned.
“The public has lost confidence in him and in the administration of justice,” stated Zweli Jele, head of the team prosecuting Ramodibedi before the JSC.
Ramodibedi’s co-accused, former justice minister Sibusiso Shongwe, whom Mswati fired last month, and Judge Mpendulo Simelane surrendered to custody and await trial.
Judge Jacobus Annandale, who ordered that quashing of the arrest warrant against Ramodibedi, was arrested for defeating the ends of justice. He was released and charges against him were dropped when he agreed to turn State’s witness against his former boss.
Ramodibedi emerged from hiding last week to attend a session of the JSC inquiry, where he mocked the proceedings. He missed the remainder of the impeachment proceedings after claiming ill-health.
His attorneys used various legal means to stop the inquiry, to have the JSC members recuse themselves and to block the delivering of their findings to Mswati. Throughout the two-month ordeal, Ramodibedi insisted he had a special relationship with Mswati. He rejected any notice or letter because they were not personally signed by Mswati, and a personal meeting with the king was among four demands that he told police would have to be met before he emerged from his house.
While Mswati’s signature on the legal notice finalised Ramodibedi’s position in Swaziland, legal analysts say the matter does not fundamentally change the country’s judicial system, which is an extension of royal rule.
The Sunday Independent