Lesotho: Justice Mahase in Angry Response to Critics

THE beleaguered Acting Chief Justice, 'Maseforo Mahase, has threatened legal action against the supporters of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC), the opposition Democratic Congress (DC) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) who recently staged a protest march to demand her ouster.

In an unprecedented show of unity, supporters of the three parties on Friday coalesced under the banner of the Voice of the Voiceless Association (VOVA), a civil society organisation and marched from Sethaleng Sa Mopapa to the High Court in Maseru to demand Justice Mahase for allegedly being a willing tool of the government in its alleged quest to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

But an angry Justice Mahase is having none of this and yesterday, she threatened legal action against the protestors.

"I cannot let people insult me like this, I am going to seek legal advice and I have already notified the Law Society of Lesotho as well as the Attorney General regarding this issue," Justice Mahase said in her address to the litigants in the case in which ABC cabinet ministers Habofanoe Lehana (Local Government and Chieftainship), Keketso Sello (Mining) and ABC legislator Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe constituency) are seeking the nullification of the party's February 2019 elective conference.

Justice Mahase has attracted the ire of supporters of the ABC's incoming national executive committee (NEC) which accuses her of deliberately delaying to finalise a court application that was filed by some ABC ministers challenging the new NEC's election at the party's 1 and 2 February 2019 elective conference.

And in a development that is likely to further infuriate the ABC supporters, Justice Mahase further postponed the case to 14 June 2019 on the grounds that she was "not well enough to preside over the case" at the moment.

This was after she had presided over a related case in the morning and issued a court order nullifying the ABC's February polls which ushered in Professor Nqosa Mahao and others into the party's NEC. (See lead story on page 2).

Livid ABC supporters who had in their ranks, the ABC's incoming chairperson, Samuel Rapapa, last Friday took the unprecedented step of uniting with supporters of the opposition Democratic Congress and Lesotho Congress for Democracy and marching to the High Court to demand Justice Mahase's ouster.

"Prime Minister Thomas Thabane put you in charge of the judiciary out of pity but based on your performance so far, we ask the Prime Minister to look elsewhere (for a new Chief Justice). We also believe he is aware of how much you have let the public down," the protestors said in their petition which was received on Justice Mahase's behalf by the Acting Registrar of the High Court, Pontšo Phafoli.

"What kind of person are you? When are you opening the Court of Appeal? We want to see the apex court in operation in the first week of May after false reports that the parliament had not given you money. If you do not open the court we vow that we will petition the government.

"We will not let the courts and the rulers to oppress people in this manner. We want a response before Friday 12 May or else we take the next step. But we believe this march has been an eye-opener for you," the protestors further stated.

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.

Before the Friday march, prominent members of the new ABC's NEC took turns to publicly attack Justice Mahase over the delay in finalising the case which was brought before her in February by cabinet ministers Habofanoe Lehana (Local Government and Chieftainship), Keketso Sello (Mining) and ABC legislator Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe constituency).

Three weeks ago, Mr Rapapa said, "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 (Nthomeng Majara who is currently on suspension)."

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.

On Monday at about 4pm, Justice Mahase who returned this week from an official trip to South Africa, resumed the hearing of the court application that was first brought before her in February by Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane.

She told the warring ABC factions that it was not true that she had faked her illness to prolong the case to the detriment of the new NEC.

She pleaded with the factions not to accuse her of any wrong-doing, adding that she was "only human" and had no control over illnesses as this was "in the hands of God".

"I must apologise for resuming business at this hour and this is because I was away for a week and came back with a terrible flu.

"I know this may offend other people but I did not choose to get sick and that is beyond my control as God is the only one who controls when one gets sick. People can make accusations but I even got a sick-leave. But still I forced myself to come before you today," Justice Mahase said.

She subsequently postponed the case to yesterday on the grounds that she was not feeling well and that the recording system of the court had broken down.

And yesterday, she further postponed the case to 14 June 2019, saying she was still not well enough to preside over the case.

"I am still not well counsels to address you today therefore the matter is postponed to 14 June 2019 and the rule is extended to that date," Justice Mahase said yesterday.

The matter has been postponed on several occasions since it was first filed on 11 February 2019.

Justice Mahase first called-in sick on 25 March and postponed the matter to 2 April, only to further postpone it to 16 April, again to 6 May and eventually to yesterday afternoon.

At one point on 20 March, Justice Mahase postponed the case after one of the defendants' lawyers, Advocate Ranale Thoahlane, called-in sick.

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