MASERU – Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase has lately been hogging the limelight for myriad reasons, including enduring allegations her judgments in contentious political cases buttress Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s interests.
Mahase – not one to pull punches in a scrum – was sucked into a media maelstrom when Thabane appointed her to replace beleaguered Justice Nthomeng Majara.
This after Thabane had used his political muscle and legal authority to cashier Justice Majara, deemed a stumbling block to the new ABC-led government’s plans, out of the coveted office.
Mahase – a former magistrate whose elevation to the high court was met with incredulity in some quarters – found herself staring at a mountain of politically charged cases upon assuming office.
Her growing army of critics accuse her of bungling cases involving the All Basotho Convention (ABC), starting with when the party tried to bar departing National University of Lesotho (NUL) Prof. Nqosa Mahao from running for the deputy-leader’s post at the party’s February 1 to 2 elective conference.
In this case, ACJ Mahase ruled in the ABC’s favour only for Court of Appeal President Kananelo Mosito to overturn the judgment ordering that Mahao had the right to participate in the epoch-defining poll.
Although Mahao and a coterie of like-minded ABC members romped to victory after shrugging off tenacious attempts by Thabane’s group to keep them out of the fold, their path to party headquarters was soon blocked by a combination of brawn and a court order.
This after the new National Executive Council (NEC) found the ABC headquarters barricaded, forcing them to hastily rearrange their press briefing.
While the Mahao NEC was groping for keys to the Met Cash offices, three members of the losing faction of the ABC challenged the outcome of the party’s elective conference in court.
The presiding judge was Justice Mahase.
Despite being classified as urgent, the case dragged on for months, with Justice Mahase repeatedly postponing it for one reason or another, drawing criticism from the Mahao camp.
To Mahao’s shock, last week on Wednesday, Justice Mahase issued a ruling in a similar case that had been filed two days early, thus rendering the main case moot.
An incensed Mahao last week told Public Eye that ACJ Mahase’s ruling was “fraudulent and concocted by unethical lawyers, politicians and a judge” and that it undermined Lesotho’s judiciary which under Mahase had been reduced to a tool by “politicians who have been rejected by the masses but still want to hold on to power”.
A miffed Mahao said Justice Mahase should go down in history as someone who had contributed to besmirching Lesotho’s image and that her judgments should make people “question her authenticity as a judge”.
The brickbats swung in Mahase’s direction have been unrelenting mainly from politicians who have accused her of being suborned by Thabane, who has himself been accused of capturing the judiciary and victimising judges who do not issue judgments in his favour.
But why is Justice Mahase being persistently linked to Thabane and perceived as his sympathizer? Is the criticism being hurled at her warranted?
It is commonly known that Justice Mahase is the wife of Thabiso Mahase, an ABC activist who in 2007 skipped the border into exile after he was accused of high treason and conniving to torpedo former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government.
Thabiso Mahase was, together with the late Jessie Ramakatane and Motlatsi Ramantsoe, suspected of masterminding the attacks on the homes of former minister Motloheloa Phooko and former deputy premier Mothetjoa Metsing during the 2007 post-election disturbances.
This was after Thabane’s ABC had won the February 2007 polls with 17 constituencies and 10 proportional representation seats.
Mahase and Ramakatane were again suspected of being the brains behind the 2009 State House attack and attempt on Mosisili’s life.
Mahase, Ramantsoe, Ramakatane and several others who were deemed dangerous and had been in exile for their alleged role in attacks on Mosisili’s government, returned to Lesotho in 2013 after Thabane’s first coalition government which was formed in June 2012 extended an amnesty to individuals who had fled the country into exile for political reasons.
Controversy continued to stalk Justice Mahase when in 2017, her 24-year-old son Teboho and her husband were held by Mafeteng police for the alleged 2016 theft of M3 million meant for old people’s pensions.
The family shortly after the incident said they had filed a lawsuit against the police for allegedly torturing Teboho while in police custody, but declined to divulge the amount they would be demanding as compensation.
Mahase first came under fire in 2007 ahead of that year’s elections, a year after she was sworn in as a high court judge.
Then, she ruled that two executive committees of the National Independent Party (NIP) should contest election separately, one for proportional representation (PR) and the other for FPP (First Past The Post), which Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Adv. Lekhetho Rakuoane on Tuesday this week said was something “that had never been seen before in Lesotho”.
According to Rakuoane, while he hated to speak ill of a sitting judge due to his legal background, he could not condone her conduct, adding the situation in the judiciary troubled him.
“These high court issues are very troubling. It comes across as though politicians are attacking the ACJ, which is really sad. As a lawyer myself I wouldn’t want to comment about a sitting judge. But when her conduct is questionable, it is a different story altogether,” Rakuoane said.
“But that’s now how the story began. It began in 2007 when she was presiding over a NIP case, where parties who had an interest in the case were deliberately excluded.
“It happened in such a way that one part of NIP which is associated with ABC was allowed to contest for constituencies while another part which had an alliance with LCD contested only under PR, thus dividing the party’s votes. Unfortunately, ABC could only help NIP in only eight constituencies.”
Rakuoane said he knew Justice Mahase well and that he knew issues that could be raised to justify her impeachment.
“So, I know her and if she were to be impeached, those are some of the things that should resurface. I know from 2006 when ABC was formed she has deliberately opted to wrongly apply procedure in order to assist a certain side. It’s the same as when she doesn’t want to a listen to a case. She will come up with excuses,” Rakuoane said.
“But at the time nobody saw a problem with her conduct and how she allowed LCD and NIP use similar logos and then saying it was an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) issue, because it was meant to compromise the LCD. It was unheard of that NIP was represented at the polls by two committees. It was the same judge. It’s how things happen in Lesotho to help certain people when it’s convenient to do so.”
Rakuoane further suggested that ACJ Mahase’s “questionable” conduct could have been the reason she was targeted by Thabane for that office.
“Maybe we might even suggest that is why she was targeted for the position of ACJ. Then I say that when Thabane wants to create an inconvenience for the congress political parties, he uses that lady. That’s how this country is.
“Despite those challenges, when congress parties were in government they never sought to impeach her for the sake of demonstrating tolerance,” Rakuoane said.
“That is why as PFD we are working with them. They had a tolerance for sad things. And all I can say now is that that’s her style. She helps ABC. Even if she is supporting one side of the party now, she’s still helping ABC.”
In July 2007, after issuing two consecutive rulings against Mosisili’s government, Mahase had her house searched by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), having obtained a search warrant from the then Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla.
However, there was internal dissent from other high court judges regarding that warrant.
The search was officially part of an investigation of Justice Mahase’s husband who had at the time fled to South Africa and was also part of security operations by the military to recover weapons stolen from the army the previous month, with police having wide powers to search homes without warrants.
In 2011, Justice Mahase sued local radio station Harvest FM for M8 million for defamation, claiming that a programme aired by the station on July 14 contained defamatory remarks about her.
This month, following accusations that essentially labelled her a Thabane stooge, she told an open court that she had been humiliated and insulted, and that she would seek legal advice from the Attorney-General and the Law Society of Lesotho on legal avenues to explore.
Attorney-General Haae Phoofolo has, however, told this paper that she is yet to discuss the issue with his office.