ACTING Chief Justice 'Maseforo Mahase is once again in the eye of the storm after a civil society organisation, the Voice of the Voiceless Association (VOVA), resolved to march to her offices to demand answers regarding her alleged failure to speedily resolve the case in which the February 2019 election of the new All Basotho Convention (ABC's) national executive committee (NEC) is being challenged by some ABC ministers.
VOVA, who want to march on 3 May 2019, say that Justice Mahase's apparent delay finalising the case "can only be interpreted as nothing but a cleverly calculated design to reach a predetermined outcome".
The organisation further throws down the gauntlet to the Acting Chief Justice, challenging her to "please prove us wrong in our assumptions by speedily dealing with this case as soon as you can".
VOVA appears to be linked to the new ABC's NEC which recently threatened mass protests against Justice Mahase over the lengthy delay in finalising the case which was brought to court in February by cabinet ministers Habofanoe Lehana (Local Government and Chieftainship), Keketso Sello (Mining) and ABC legislator Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe constituency).
The link is suggested in VOVA's recent letter to Justice Mahase in which they describe themselves as "members of the party that is leading the government".
The Thomas Thabane-led ABC is the main partner in the governing coalition which also features Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki's Alliance of Democrats (AD), Communications minister Thesele Maseribane's Basotho National Party (BNP) and Labour minister Keketso Rantšo's Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL).
The ABC has not known peace and stability in the aftermath of its 1 -- 2 February 2019 elective conference which ushered in a new NEC with the outgoing National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao as the deputy leader.
But the new NEC has not been able to assume office due to fierce resistance from the old NEC who say Prof Mahao is a newcomer who should not be in the driving seat to succeed Dr Thabane when the latter eventually leaves office. Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC's election has also been challenged in the High Court by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane on the grounds that there was vote rigging at the party leadership contest.
Last week, the new NEC held a rally in the Mohale's Hoek constituency where the ABC's Taung legislator, Selemo Mangobe, told supporters that they were preparing to stage protests against Justice Mahase for the long delay in finalising the case that was brought before her by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane.
The delay in finalising the case has worked in favour of the old NEC who continue to cling to power by virtue of Justice Mahase's February order which allows them to remain in office until the case has been finalised.
Mr Mangobe told ABC supporters that "preparations (for the protest against Justice Mahase) are underway and once everything has been sorted out we will reveal the dates for the protests".
"We have to go there and show the courts that what is happening (the delay in finalising the case) is out of order and the courts must serve their purpose. Let us all get ready so that we can go and condemn 'Maseforo because this is uncalled for," added Mr Mangobe.
And this week, VOVA wrote to Justice Mahase to inform her of their intention to march to her offices to demand answers over what they see as the judiciary's failure to urgently deal with critical issues including the ABC dispute, the suspension of the Court of Appeal's April's session as well as the ongoing go-slow strike action by the magistrates. The protestors will march on 3 May this year from the Setsoto Stadium to the High Court in Maseru.
"The purpose of this visit (protest march) is that it has come to the attention of many Basotho that there is hindrance in the delivery of justice in different courts whereby cases drag for a long time before judges including those cases that were filed on urgent basis," VOVA state in their letter.
"There has also been disruption of the sitting of the Court of Appeal and even the magistrates are on a go-slow. For this reason and others we will visit your office to seek a report on reasons why the judiciary is failing the public."
VOVA also raised concerns about the ABC case which has been before Justice Mahase since 11 February 2019. The case has not been heard and it has been postponed on several occasions despite being filed as an urgent matter. It was first postponed to allow the ABC factions to hold talks towards an out-of-court settlement. When the talks collapsed, it was postponed after one of the defendants' lawyers called in sick and again when Justice Mahase also fell sick.
"It is shocking how a case that was lodged as an urgent application, where you yourself as the presiding judge ordered the respondents to file their answering affidavits within 24 hours of filing, has been languishing in your court for nearly three months. Have you ever imagined the costs that the respondents are burdened with as this seemingly easy- to- rule case drags on to eternity?
"Madam, you will indeed appreciate our frustration as members of the party that is leading the government, whose mandate is to set the agenda and be seen as a shining example of democracy and good governance inside and outside the country. The manner in which you appear to be handling this case raises more concerns than justifications. Even if one were to grant you the luxury that this case is complicated, natural rules of fair play dictate against you overwhelmingly. In a democracy, you must appreciate that citizens have a right to express their grievances when they feel aggrieved by any organ of state so long as their expression of concerns are done peacefully and strictly within the bounds of law and civility.
"It is in this spirit that we urge you to accept that we have every legitimate right to picket and protest to your court as an indication of our unhappiness at the way you appear to be handling this potentially explosive case. We refuse to accept the reasoning that you are not aware of how potentially damaging this case is to the stability of the ruling party and by extension to the stability of the government. The longer it drags on, especially in the manner in which it is, can only be interpreted as nothing but a cleverly calculated design to reach a predetermined outcome. If we are wrong in our assumptions, please prove us wrong by speedily dealing with this case as soon as you can. We plead with you to put our nation's interests first and foremost when considering how to respond to our notification of planned protest march to your office," the letter reads.
Prominent members of the new ABC's NEC have taken turns to publicly attack Justice Mahase over the delay in finalising the case. Last week, the incoming chairperson of the ABC, Samuel Rapapa, said he had proposed the protests against Justice Mahase and if "people agree then the protests will be organised and the dates will be set".
"This case (against the election of the new NEC) was supposed to be treated as an urgent application because that is what it was when it was filed in February. But surprisingly, the case has been dragging for very dubious reasons. First it was Advocate Ranale Thoahlane who got 'sick'.
"I suspect that she (Justice Mahase) has been promised the post of Chief Justice on a permanent basis once the outstanding issues have been ironed out with the current Chief Justice," Mr Rapapa said.
He further said that Justice Mahase has been holding secret meetings with some "top people" in the government "who are influential and have the power to make decisions to appoint the Chief Justice".
The incoming ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, was even more scathing in his criticism of the judiciary and in particular, Justice Mahase, who he suggested had feigned illness so that she could delay hearing the case.
This is not the first time that Justice Mahase has found herself in the eye of a storm over allegations of delaying court proceedings. On 29 January 2019, Justice Mahase was involved in heated exchanges with the audience who heckled her over her perceived tardiness in handling the ABC's Koko-Koro Constituency Committee's case against the disqualification of Prof Mahao from the party's leadership elections.
On that day, the visibly irate Justice Mahase threatened to eject the hecklers from the courtroom and proceed with the case with only the media in attendance.