On June 21, 2020, the Times of Swaziland reported that the country’s Chief Justice, Bheki Maphalala, married his female bodyguard, a police officer and a member of Maphalala’s personal protective team. The sexual relationship between Maphalala and the bodyguard is wrong, immoral, unethical and corrupt.
It is against established international judicial standards and code of conduct. In my view, this behaviour amounts to serious professional misconduct. Maphalala’s position as Chief Justice is therefore unattainable and he must be stood down with immediate effect without pay to allow the appointing authority to process his removal from office.
We call upon the Judicial Service Commission to invoke section 158 of The Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland Act 2005, and regard Maphalala’s conduct as serious misbehaviour and abuse of office. This will send a strong message that sexual predatory behaviour and harassment against women in the workplace is not acceptable, and has no place in our judicial system.
Having sex with a bodyguard is not only unethical but also brings into serious question the integrity of national security and public confidence in the judicial system. The Chief Justice has disgraced and brought shame to the judicial system. His reputation as a trustworthy and ethical legal profession has been severely wounded.
If Maphalala is allowed to remain in office, he will continue to use his potion to sexually harass women and coerce them into sex. According to the Times of Swaziland report, the bodyguard is Maphalala’s fifth wife, a hint that this man could be a serial sexual predictor who should not be trusted with the highest office in our judicial system.
I have serious concerns about Maphalala as a fit and proper person to hold the chief justice office and engage in legal practice. In view of this situation, the appointing authority must seriously question whether Judge Maphalala can continue to command the respect and authority essential to the performance of his judicial function.
We cannot fall silent on these matters because they are critical to the type of society we want to build. Our society must not tolerate anyone, irrespective of his/her status, to use their position of power and office to obtain sexual favours and abuse women.
Like King Mswati III and many men in position of authority, Maphalala had sex with his bodyguard because he is driven by a false sense of sexual entitlement. He believes that women in his workplace owe him sex. As a society, we must denounce this behaviour and take appropriate measures to eliminate it in our institutions and social life.
We have, for many years, advocated for the protection of women against sexual violence and predatory behaviour. Maphalala’s behaviour is no exception. As a democratic and progressive movement, we believe that women have the right to go to work uninhibited by fear of sexual harassment. Too many women in this country have fallen victims to sexual predators like Bheki Maphalala and his appointing authority, Mswati III.
This is a systemic problem that has its foundation in false cultural beliefs that promote sexual predatory behaviour and treatment of women as sexual objects. These beliefs are structural and embedded in the very fabric of this country. Maphalala is a product and relic of this culture that must be destroyed to allow our society to build new pathways to the future.
Our quest for political, social and economic freedom will be in vain if we don’t call out this behaviour and allow this man to remain in office. The Chief Justice conduct is disgraceful and repulsive. It has caused significant damage to the public’s faith in the judicial system and those entrusted with the responsibility for upholding the dignity and respect of the institution.
In order to maintain public faith, judges and other judicial officers must uphold and be accountable to the highest standards and code of conduct. Maphalala has failed this test, and he must go. He has no place and role in a model judicial system which must safeguard the rights of women to work as bodyguards and judicial officers without fear of sexual harassment.
We believe that this view is widely shared by the Swaziland Law Society which has, in previous occasions, expressed concerns about sexual predatory behaviour by judges. In 2011, the Law Society of Swaziland lodged a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission against the former Chief Justice Ramodipedi for sexually harassing five female employees of the High Court of Swaziland.
The Maphalala scandal is, therefore, not an isolated incident but part of a broader systemic institutional culture of sexual abuse and violence against women. It is abundantly clear that Maphalala has inherited the corrupt practices of his predecessor who was removed from the Office of Chief Justice in 2015 for serious misbehaviour. Like Ramodipedi, Maphalala has turned the judicial system into his personal fiefdom and trade in sex.
Maphalala thought that he could hide behind the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid public scrutiny over his abhorrent behaviour. He has been ‘caught having sex with a bodyguard in his chambers’. The Judicial Service Commission was correct in recommending the removal of Chief Justice Ramodipedi for serious misbehaviour, and it must do the right thing by recommending the removal of Chief Justice Maphalala from office.
A much broader investigation into the conduct of Chief Justice Maphalala must be undertaken to establish the extent of his offence. The questions that should be asked are; a) how many women have been sexually harassed and coerced into sex by Chief Justice Maphalala?, b) Why did take a marriage ceremony to expose the wrongdoing?, and c) Who knew about the sexual relationship between the Chief Justice and his female bodyguard and failed to do anything about it?
It is highly likely that Maphalala has used his position in the past to sexually harass and coerce other women into sex. We encourage people who have been subjected to, witnessed or have knowledge of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by the Chief Justice to come forward and share their experiences. They can do this through social media and/or by lodging formal complaints to the Law Society of Swaziland, the Judicial Service Commission and the International Bar Association. Their voices must be heard and respected.
NB: Dr Matsebula is an exiled founding member of PUDEMO