Four suspended judges of the High Court, being Justices Key Dingake; Modiri Letsidi; Mercy Garekwe; and Ranier Busang have this week moved an application at High Court calling for the recusal of panel of judges scheduled to hear their case on the matter in which they are challenging their suspension.
The panel which the four Judges does not want chairing on their case comprises of Justices Singh Lackvinda Walia, Zibani Makhwade and Leatile Dambe.
They detest them sitting together in a panel as presiding Judges, in the main application for the review of the decisions taken by the Chief Justice Maruping Dibotelo, Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama.
President Khama suspended the quartet for challenging Chief Justice Dibotelo's move of threatening to report them to the Police for criminal investigation as they were receiving housing allowances while staying in official residences. It was said that they were not entitled to the housing allowance.
The suspended Judges then hauled Khama to court questioning their suspension and highlighting to court that it was unconstitutional and that Khama in earnest does not have powers to suspend Judges.
In the fresh notice of motion filed on Thursday the suspended judges stated in their renewed application that they want court to make an order “that the Honourable Justice(s) Walia, Makhwade and Dambe recuse as presiding Judges in respect of this matter and in its entirety.”
According to the suspended foursome: “Justices (Walia, Dambe and Makhwande) have on various occasions shown us to be partial and displayed unwarranted impatience with our attorneys.”
The Judges, who have been put ‘on the back banner’ serving suspension explained in the court papers that “to date, our attorney has not delayed filing papers and has been forthcoming on all the facts, in an attempt to assist the court to expedite the hearing of this matter.”
They stressed that under circumstances their apprehension and perception that the Justices are biased against them is as palpable as it is reasonable. “Further it is reasonable to believe that they have prejudged the merits or otherwise, prior to argument of the review,” the judges on hold pointed out.
They insist that in the interest of a fair hearing and protection of their constitutional rights a recusal of the Honourable Justices is the only option.
Having served the country on the bench for a number of years, the suspended Judges put on ice said they are alive to the sensitivities attending an application of this nature. “However, the fact that such sensitivities subsist, ought not to bar a litigant from securing a fair hearing.”
According to the quartet up in the air the recusal application is not an indictment on the judicial profession at large; but an attempt to bring to light some concerns which any litigant is entitled to highlight.
“We were of the further view that anyone or more of our colleagues faced with hearing the matter and adjudicating upon it would invariably find themselves in a difficult and invidious position and we therefore were of the view that the appointment of a foreign bench comprising three judges (alternatively the appointment of a three judge panel of the most senior High Court judges) would be most appropriate.”
They wanted foreign judges with no known links to Botswana. Since the appointment of Justices Walia, Dambe and Makhwade, matters have proceeded in a manner which calls into question the independence of the court, they said.
Furthermore, the suspended Judges said their constitutional right for recourse through the courts has been compromised and there is a real apprehension that save for a recusal of the three Justices, there is scant opportunity that they will receive a fair hearing in the current interlocutory matters before the court and in the main substantive application for review.
In justifying why the judges need to further recuse themselves, they gave an example that previously, the court and in particular Justices Walia and Dambe took the view that the group of four suspended were unnecessary delaying the matter. These incidents at the hands of Justices Walia and Dambe was a foreshadowing of unwarranted hostility and ultimately bias from the court as against the applicants, they put to the fore.
They also categorically stated that: “the question of recusal of a judge(s) is a constitutional matter which goes to the right of a litigant to a fair hearing before an impartial court, in terms of section 10 (9) of the constitution.” It was said that it is therefore vital for the court to bear in mind that the suspended judges’ rights which stand to be violated should the Justices persist are constitutional rights.
Chibanda Makgalemele & Company represented the four suspended Judges while Attorney General stood in for the Registrar of the High Court, President Khama, JSC and Dibotelo.
Despite being hailed and still regarded as a hero who saved many lives through his decision to crash the BF5 fighter Jet around the national stadium on the eve of the 2018 BDF day, the deceased Pilot, Major Clifford Manyuni’s actions were treated as a letdown within the army, especially by his master-Commander of the Air Arm, Major General Innocent Phatshwane.
Manyuni’s master says he was utterly disappointed with his Pilot’s failure to perform “simple basics.”
Manyuni was regarded as a hero through social media for his ‘colourful exploits’, but Phatshwane who recently retired as the Air Arm Commander, revealed to WeekendPost in an exclusive interview that while he appreciated Batswana’s outpouring of emotions and love towards his departed Pilot, he strongly felt let down by the Pilot “because there was nothing wrong with that Fighter Jet and Manyuni did not report any problem either.”
The deceased Pilot, Manyuni was known within the army to be an upwardly mobile aviator and in particular an air power proponent.
“I was hurt and very disappointed because nobody knows why he decided to crash a well-functioning aircraft,” stated Phatshwane – a veteran pilot with over 40 years of experience under the Air Arm unit.
Phatshwane went on to express shock at Manyuni’s flagrant disregard for the rules of the game, “they were in a formation if you recall well and the guiding principle in that set-up is that if you have any problem, you immediately report to the formation team leader and signal a break-away from the formation.
Manyuni disregarded all these basic rules, not even to report to anybody-team members or even the barracks,” revealed Phatshwane when engaged on the much-publicised 2018 incident that took the life of a Rakops-born Pilot of BDF Class 27 of 2003/2004.
Phatshwane quickly dismisses the suggestion that perhaps the Fighter Jet could have been faulty, “the reasons why I am saying I was disappointed is that the aircraft was also in good condition and well-functioning. It was in our best interest to know what could have caused the accident and we launched a wholesale post-accident investigation which revealed that everything in the structure was working perfectly well,” he stated.
Phatshwane continued: “we thoroughly assessed the condition of the engine of the aircraft as well as the safety measures-especially the ejection seat which is the Pilot’s best safety companion under any life-threatening situation. All were perfectly functional.”
In aircrafts, an ejection seat or ejector seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. The seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it.”
Manyuni knew about all these safety measures and had checked their functionality prior to using the Aircraft as is routine practice, according to Phatshwane. Could Manyuni have been going through emotional distress of some sort? Phatshwane says while he may never really know about that, what he can say is that there are laid out procedures in aviation guiding instances of emotional instability which Manyuni also knew about.
“We don’t allow or condone emotionally or physically unfit Pilots to take charge of an aircraft. If a Pilot feels unfit, he reports and requests to be excused. We will subsequently shift the task to another Pilot. We do this because we know the risks of leaving an unfit pilot to fly an aircraft,” says Phatshwane.
Despite having happened a day before the BDF day, Phatshwane says the BDF day mishap did not really affect the BDF day preparations, although it emotionally distracted Manyuni’s flying formation squad a bit, having seen him break away from the formation to the stone-hearted ground. The team soldiered on and immediately reported back to base for advice and way forward, according to Phatshwane.
Sharing the details of the ordeal and his Pilots’ experiences, Phatshwane said: “they (pilots) were in distress, who wouldn’t? They were especially hurt by the deceased‘s lack of communication. I immediately called a chaplain to attend to their emotional needs.
He came and offered them counselling. But soldiers don’t cry, they immediately accepted that a warrior has been called, wiped off their tears and instantly reported back for duty. I am sure you saw them performing miracles the following day at the BDF day as arranged.”
Despite the matter having attracted wide publicity, the BDF kept the crash details a distance away from the public, a move that Phatshwane felt was not in the best interest of the army and public.
“The incident attracted overwhelming public attention. Not only that, there were some misconceptions attached to the incident and I thought it was upon the BDF to come out and address those for the benefit of the public and army’s reputation,” he said.
One disturbing narrative linked to the incident was that Manyuni heroically wrestled the ‘faulty’ aircraft away from the endangered public to die alone, a narrative which Phatshwane disputes as just people’s imaginations. “Like I said the Aircraft was functioning perfectly,” he responded.
A close family member has hinted that the traumatised Manyuni family, at the time of their son’s tragedy, strongly accused the BDF ‘of killing their son’. Phatshwane admits to this development, emphasising that “Manyuni’s mother was visibly and understandably in inconsolable pain when she uttered those words”.
Phatshwane was the one who had to travel to Rakops through the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) aircraft to deliver the sad news to the family but says he found the family already in the know, through social media. At the time of his death, Manyuni was survived by both parents, two brothers, a sister, fiancée and one child. He was buried in Rakops in an emotionally-charged burial. Like his remains, the BDF fighter jets have been permanently rested.
A matter in which former President Lt Gen Ian Khama had brought before Broadhurst Police Station in Gaborone, requesting the State to charge Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) lead investigator, Jako Hubona and others with perjury has been committed to Headquarters because it involves “elders.”
Broadhurst Police Station Commander, Obusitswe Lokae, told this publication this week that the case in its nature is high profile so the matter has been allocated to his Officer Commanding No.3 District who then reported to the Divisional Commander who then sort to commit it to Police Headquarters.