Johannesburg — Former South African president Thabo Mbeki is headed to Swaziland in response to concerns expressed by local lawyers about the state of the country's judiciary.
Addressing a church synod in South Africa on Thursday, Mbeki did not disclose what the concerns were.
However, Swaziland's chief justice, Michael Ramodibedi, has been accused of being too close to King Mswati III. The judge, who is a Basotho national, is also involved in a dispute with Lesotho government, which is seeking to remove him as president of the country's Court of Appeal. And a Swazi journalist has been convicted on charges of criminal contempt of court for criticising the chief justice and the judiciary.
Mbeki was challenged by a member of the provincial synod of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa for not speaking out over Swaziland's "monarchial democracy".
He replied that some weeks ago a group of Swazi lawyers "raised issues with me about the judiciary in Swaziland and said to me, 'This is what we think is going wrong.' [They] gave me some documents and said, 'Do something.' So I agreed. So I'm on my way to Swaziland to do something."
Mbeki disclosed that some years ago he went to see King Mswati during discussions over the country's constitution: "He... said to us, please can you talk to some Swazis to encourage them to join this process, because there is a voice there that is missing, this voice which is saying the things that you are saying, about democratisation."
As a result some Swazis joined the processs, but "then for reasons that I don't know, they walked out." He added: "We do engage Swaziland but without calling press conferences... if I talked to [the Swazis] through the media, they wouldn't listen."