Hungwe’s contract expires



Mohalenyane Phakela

Zimbabwean judge Charles Hungwe’s contract has once again expired without any headway in the matters that he was seconded to adjudicate. This is primarily a result of the Stalingrad approaches of the accused persons, mainly former army commander Tlali Kamoli, who has been using every trick in the book to frustrate his trials from proceeding before Justice Hungwe, whom he accuses of bias without proffering any shred of evidence.

This is the third time Justice Hungwe’s contract has expired without much progress in the Kamoli and other cases.

Justice Hungwe was recruited in 2019 by the government and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). His salary is paid by the European Union (EU). Earlier this year, EU ambassador to Lesotho, Paola Amadei, told the Lesotho Times that the regional bloc was prepared to continue funding his salary “for as long as it takes for him to finalise his cases”. These include former army commander, Tlali Kamoli and others’ trial for the June 2015 murder of army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao.

Ambassador Amadei said the EU was even prepared to fund the recruitment of another foreign judge but everything depended on whether or not the Lesotho government approached them for such support.

But with Justice Hungwe’s contract expiring today, it is not clear whether or not the JSC is committed to renewing the judge’s contract. The government has said the renewal of his contract and the recruitment of another foreign judge are supposed to be decided by the JSC.

Commenting on the EU’s commitment to continue funding Justice Hungwe’s salary as well as the recruitment of another judge, Law and Justice Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane, last month said, “it is not for me to decide. It is up to the JSC to decide whether or not to renew Justice Hungwe’s contract. If they decide to renew his contract and recruit another foreign judge, we will support them. As a government we will not interfere with the judiciary”.

JSC secretary ‘Mathato Sekoai was no-committal when this publication contacted her over the issue yesterday.

“You will know when the contract has been renewed. I will let you know,” Adv Sekoai said in a brief interview.

The JSC would have to move fast if it is to renew Justice Hungwe’s contract. This is because some of the cases that Justice Hungwe is presiding over, such as the Mahao murder trial and Lt-Gen Kamoli’s application for his recusal, have both been set for Monday.

When asked about the issue earlier this year, Ambassador Amadei said, “the EU has been supporting the judiciary in relation to the high-profile trials first via SADC and now through the UNDP that is managing the programme”.

“Our involvement was based on a request by the government of Lesotho. We didn’t just impose ourselves. The support was necessitated by the Lesotho government’s desire to ensure a transparent process. The government felt there may be pressure on the local judges. The government wanted to ensure that there wouldn’t be any suspicions of bias either in favour of the suspects or against them. So, for that reason, international judges were recruited. Currently, only one of the international judges, Charles Hungwe, is still in place. But we are willing to support the recruitment of another international judge.

“Our support will always be available depending on whether the government needs it. We are prepared to continue assisting for as long as it takes to finalise the high-profile trials,” Ambassador Amadei added.

Justice Hungwe’s contract was only renewed last month after it had expired on 28 February 2022.  Before that, it had been renewed in November 2021 after its expiry on 31 October 2021.

Although it was clear that he would not have finalised the cases before him by then, the JSC last month only extended Justice Hungwe’s contract to 31 March 2022.

The Zimbabwean judge was one of the three foreign judges who were engaged by the government and JSC in 2019 to try the high-profile trials involving politicians and members of the national security agencies.

The others were Botswana judges Kabelo Lebotse and Onkemetse Tshosa.

At the time, then Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Mokhele Moletsane, said although local judges were competent enough to try the cases, the government and SADC felt it necessary to engage foreign judges because the cases in question were politically sensitive. He said the verdicts of the foreign judges were less likely to be viewed as biased.

Justices Lebotse and Tshosa subsequently resigned in May 2020 and August 2021 respectively, citing poor working conditions, among other things. They were also unhappy about the delaying tactics deployed by the suspects to stall the trials.

Their resignations left Justice Hungwe with the herculean task of presiding over some of the high-profile trials by himself. Some of the cases, including the treason and murder trial of politicians, Mothetjoa Metsing and Selibe Mochoboroane, Lt-Gen Kamoli and others, have since been allocated to local judges.

Justice Hungwe was left to continue with Lt-Gen Kamoli and eight other soldiers’ trial for the June 2015 murder of Lt-Gen Mahao.

He also continued with Lt-Gen Kamoli and four other soldiers’ attempted murder trial over the January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the houses of former First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, and former Police Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.

He is also presiding over the trial of Senior Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu and three other police officers for the March 2016 murder of Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng. The trial is scheduled to proceed on 3 May 2022.

But the trials have not been completed timeously because of the Stalingrad tactics of the accused, especially Kamoli, who are bent on frustrating the remaining foreign judge into living.

Kamoli has accused Justice Hungwe of being biased against him and launched another application for his recusal despite that a similar application was rejected by the Court of Appeal. Kamoli would probably have got inspiration to continue unjustifiably attacking Justice Hungwe from Chief Justice Sakoane’s seemingly unfortunate berating of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane,  in one of the cases that the chief justice has assumed.  The DPP has since gone to the Court of Appeal to plead for the chief justice’s recusal. But it seems the chief justice’s remarks in that case, which appeared sympathetic to the accused, despite the fact that they have been primarily responsible for stalling their trials, would only have buoyed Kamoli into believing he would only get an acquittal if tried by a local judge.  Hence his latest seemingly frivolous application against Judge Hungwe.



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