Monday, May 11, 2015


In the increasing confusion during Swaziland’s present judicial crisis, politicians, commentators and international observers alike are pointing to the Swazi Constitution for answers.

But, they do not seem to realise that there is no point in scouring through the constitution for a solution, because history tells us that King Mswati III will ignore the kingdom’s constitution when he wishes.

The King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has ignored the constitution a number of times. Among these were when:  i) he appointed Barnabas Dlamini Prime Minister when he was not a member of the Swazi Senate; ii) he appointed Michael Ramodibedi Chief Justice when he was not a Swazi national and iii) in October 2012 when he refused to sack Dlamini as Prime Minister after he lost a vote of confidence in the House of Assembly, although the King was constitutionally obliged to do so.

The constitution also puts the King above the law by stating he is immune from any suit or legal process ‘in any cause in respect of all things done or omitted to be done by him’. The constitution was further reinforced by an explicit practice directive issued by the Chief Justice Ramodibedi on 16 June 2011 which stated that immunity applied for any claims made indirectly against the King.

At present in Swaziland, Ramodibedi, the King’s appointee as Chief Justice, is suspended from office. A warrant was issued for his arrest, reportedly on 23 charges, including abuse of power.

Ramodibedi refused to be arrested and has been holed up in his house in Mbabane, the Swazi capital, for more than three weeks. The arrest warrant was later suspended and Ramodibedi himself was suspended from office pending an inquiry into his conduct by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Meanwhile Judge Bheki Maphalala was appointed Acting Chief Justice. Ramodibedi has reportedly refused to be suspended and he will not recognise the legitimacy of his replacement.

The Prime Minister Dlamini has been accused of taking power into his own hands by pressing for Ramodibedi’s arrest even though the constitution states that only the JSC can remove a Chief Justice. This is even though the Chief Justice is also the head of the JSC.

Prime Minister Dlamini does not see it that way. He is on record from 2011 in stating that the word of King Mswati is law. He did so after the King demanded that Dlamini drop a court case he was bringing relating to a land scam involving himself and several of his cabinet ministers.

Dlamini reportedly said at the time, ‘His Majesty said the issue should be put to rest. It means the matter has been concluded because the King’s word is a command and the law.’

So, before the present judicial crisis can end Swaziland must wait for King Mswati to pronounce.



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