‘Toxic workplace prematurely send him to his grave’
MASERU – “If merit and capacity were the criteria for judicial appointments and selection to the High Court and Court of Appeal, many of those who man our benches today would best be serving in the taxi industry and not in the high offices of our judiciary.”
Law Society President, Advocate Tekane Maqakachane, described the state of the judiciary this way as the legal fraternity mourns the passing of High Court Justice Thamsanqa Nomncongo. Judge Nomcongo passed last Thursday after a long illness. It is understood that before his passing, the judge was already excused from duty and tasked with writing pending judgments.
Speaking at the judge’s memorial service, Maqakachane said Judge Nomncongo was one of the brightest legal luminaries to serve the country both in the magistracy and the High Court but was not spared the challenges within the judiciary. It is these challenges and a toxic environment which pilled pressure on the judge and he could no longer bear it.
He said, it is the result of “the undeniable fact of the High Court as an institution being a toxic and dangerous environment and ecosystem not fit and conducive for habitation by principled, morally upright and hardworking judges.”
So bad is the situation that some High Court judges are reportedly not “listen(ing) to the Chief Justice nor do they take and carry his/her administrative orders and instructions from him or her,” Maqakachane maintains: “It is this toxic environment in which Justice Nomncongo found himself, and no wonder it did not take him long before the cracks began to show and widene. He laboured and writhed under the great stress of this toxic ecosystem in the High Court until he could not bear it any more.
“There was a clear discernable downscaling of efforts in his judicial work; the backlog of cases mounted and became unmanageable; and he became an unfortunate victim at the receiving end of work-related toxicity.” If not attended to, the lawyers body says, the situation is likely to cost not only the judiciary but will also affect the caliber of judges the country has.
Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane has, therefore, been urged to deal with the toxicity decisively. “We foresee, reasonably so, the same fate carried to the tomb by Justice Nomncongo being visited on some of the hardworking judges in the remaining pool of judges.” These challenges, Maqakachane explained, have cost scores of Basotho access to the judiciary/proper administration of justice.
At the centre of the challenges, is also politicisation of the institution. “Polemic structural issues, politics and the politicisation of the judiciary in this Kingdom has robbed us and the masses of the poor people of Lesotho the full potential and fruits that bear and drop from this gigantic tree.” Maqakachane described Judge Thamsanqa as one of the accomplished jurists who moved from the magistracy to the High Court because of the experience he possessed.
“Ntate Thami perfectly fitted the description of the proverbial judge: a minefield of legal knowledge, you would swear he knew the statute that was passed in the same morning; preparedness and knowing the contents of pleadings before him more than the legal practitioner who drafted them; rarely inquisitive during the hearing but when he elected to ask a question, in many cases than not, that was a point on which the case rested.”
At his time at the magistracy, Judge Nomncongo demonstrated competency and was a workaholic. He is said to have been a “beacon of hope in the magistracy, an incredible workaholic who organised and commanded his judicial and administrative functions in a manner which can only be described as a marvel to his colleagues then.”
According to Maqakachane the administration of justice was in capable hands with Judge Thamsanqa at the magistrate and it was befitting that he was appointed as Judge of the High Court. He will be laid to rest today at his home in Ha Matala.