South Africa 19.7.2015 09:00 am

SA judiciary on knife edge, says jailed Swazi editor

Thulani Maseko Swazi human rights lawyer and Swazi editor Bheki Makhubu who were imprisoned for two years after being convicted of contempt of court at a welcoming reception for them on 16 July 2015 in Pretoria. Picture: Christine Vermooten

Thulani Maseko Swazi human rights lawyer and Swazi editor Bheki Makhubu who were imprisoned for two years after being convicted of contempt of court at a welcoming reception for them on 16 July 2015 in Pretoria. Picture: Christine Vermooten

A respected Swazi magazine editor who spent 15 months behind bars for criticising his country’s former chief justice has warned that South Africa’s judiciary were balancing on the edge of a slippery slope that could lead to the loss of their independence.

Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation magazine, and Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were sent to prison for two years for contempt of court for articles they wrote that were critical of the now disgraced Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.

Their imprisonment caused an international outcry by civil rights groups and they were eventually freed on June 30 after the Swazi Supreme Court overturned their convictions.

Unbowed by their prison ordeal, Makhubu and Maseko have vowed to continue their campaign for constitutionalism and the rule of law in Swaziland.

Pressed about his views on the situation in South Africa, where Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng last week told journalists the judiciary would meet with President Jacob Zuma to discuss recent attacks on the judiciary by the ANC and its alliance partners, Makhubu said he viewed this with unease during a visit to South Africa this week.

“I’m still trying to understand what is going on between the Chief Justice and the President. The little I know is that I don’t like it because it starts there.

“It starts with these meetings that are supposed to clear the air that then create expectations.

“Suddenly judgments are issued not because somebody made a phone call and said make sure that guy is found guilty. It’s just a subconscious expectation that happens that says I’m sure politician so-and-so would like me to convict this person. So it creates an expectation and it gets worse,” he said.

Makhubu said when he wrote an article about the Swazi government winning all cases it had to defend after Ramodibedi took over at the Supreme Court, the response was that he was talking nonsense.

“In fact the (Swazi) government organised a party for judges, which was called off at the 11th hour because somebody somewhere realised it doesn’t send out a good message.

“But that’s where the rot became obvious. The Supreme Court was doing the government favours.

“Because if the judges do government favours, then the government has to reciprocate…. If government controls the finances for the judiciary, everybody is looking after everybody.

“…I know that in South Africa one of the problems you have is that the judiciary still has to get money from government. So there are always fears, there are always these unspoken threats that they’ll delay budget allocations because people are not seeing eye to eye.

“…I think the chief justice (Mogoeng) and judges should have ignored the ANC. They should have left it … to others to debate.

“The meeting is not good, because meetings by their nature lead to a certain understanding – I know your position and you know my position. I expect that from you. You expect this from me.

“And then it starts. Once you become pals who phone each other to create these understandings, then you can make deals. And then the whole thing goes wrong,” Makhubu said.

Makhubu said a damages claim against the Swazi government was definitely on the cards and he had no plans to stop reporting on human rights abuses as he had done in the past.

“I’m not on a revenge mission or anything. I’m just going to continue where I stopped in 2014 when I was arrested. If it’s right, it’s right. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. It’s as simple as that,” he said. – ilsedl@citizen.co.za.

 

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