Saturday, July 2, 2011


High Court Judge Thomas Masuku has been here before. Yesterday (1 July 2011), he was indefinitely suspended with immediate effect from the bench and accused of a number of ‘serious acts of misbehaviour’, including ‘insulting’ King Mswati III and ‘actively associating with those who want to bring about unlawful change to the regime’.

This is not new territory for Masuku. In April 2003, the government led (then, as now) by Barnabas Dlamini tried to move Masuku from the High Court and send him to the Industrial Court.

Dlamini told Amnesty International at the time that it was evident from his rulings that Justice Masuku was anti-government and that he had been transferred to another court where he would be less political.

Amnesty International devoted a whole section of its 2004 report on human rights in Swaziland to Masuku’s case, which it called, ‘Perhaps the most sustained example of harassment’.

Masuku had been removed from the High Court and sent to the Industrial Court, but Masuku was having none of it. He fought the ruling, won, and was reinstated in the High Court in May 2004.

Amnesty reported that the attempted removal of Masuku was unconstitutional and that the government led by Dlamini did not give Masuku adequate opportunity to dispute his transfer.

Amnesty reported, ‘… the then Minister of Justice, Magwagwa Mdluli, announced at a press conference on the night of 3 April 2003 that Justice Thomas Masuku had been “transferred” from the High Court to the Industrial Court. There is no evidence that any of the requirements in terms of Section 100 [of the constitution then in operation] had been followed nor had the judge himself been informed.

He was to learn about it in the press on the following day.

‘On 7 April 2003 when Justice Masuku was hearing a case in the High Court counsel for the Government challenged his right to hear the case and showed him the government’s Legal Notice No.29 of 3 April 2003 which purported to announce the “transfer” of Thomas Masuku to the Industrial Court.

Justice Masuku informed Amnesty International in July 2003 that this was the first occasion on which he had seen the legal notice.

Masuku elected not to report for duty at the International Court.

The Amnesty report continued, ‘During a meeting with an Amnesty International delegation on 8 July 2003 Minister Mdluli made hostile references to court rulings by Justice Thomas Masuku and described the judiciary as being involved in an attack against the “other arms of government”. The then Prime Minister, Sibusiso [Barnabas] Dlamini, told Amnesty International on 9 July 2003 that it was evident from his rulings that Justice Masuku was “anti-government” and that he had been transferred to another court where he would be “less political”.

‘It is difficult to avoid the conclusion from these remarks as well as from the chain of events from 3 April 2003 that Justice Thomas Masuku was being punished for his forthright rulings and refusal to be drawn into improper contacts with government ministers and officials, as for instance in their “Thursday Committee” meetings [the Special Committee of Justice chaired by the prime minister, which Amnesty said ‘has reportedly interfered extensively and intrusively with judicial decisions’].’

To read the full Amnesty International report, click here.

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