THE High Court yesterday ruled in favour of four diplomats who were challenging their recall by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations.
Bothata Tsikoane (India), ‘Malejaka Letooane (High Commissioner to South Africa), Mophethe Sekamane (Johannesburg Consul-General), and Dr ‘Mabaphuthi Moorosi-Molapo (High Commissioner to Malaysia) were served with recall letters dated 21 August 2015 but challenged them in the High Court, arguing they were “irregular”.
In her ruling, Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane said the lawyers representing the respondents (Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary, Attorney General and Government Secretary) were “very unprofessional to have advised their clients to act in the manner they did”.
The judge was referring to the decision by the respondents to withdraw the recall letters and replace them with ultimatums asking the diplomats to “show cause” why their contracts should not be terminated because their appointments had been made by a government that had since left office.
The diplomats initially approached the court to interdict the recall letters written by Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane, arguing they were “driven and inspired by political considerations”.
The litigation forced the minister to withdraw the letters on 28 October but soon after, Government Secretary Lebohang Ramohlanka issued the “show cause” ultimatum which the diplomats’ lawyer, Advocate Monaheng Seeiso Rasekoai, challenged on 6 November.
The case was argued in the High Court on 10 November and the following day, Justice Hlajoane said the respondents should have waited for her ruling in the main case before proceeding with the “show cause” letters as a new case.
In his argument, Deputy Attorney General Tsebang Putsoane, representing the respondents told the court, the “show cause” was a new case.
“There is no obstruction of justice; it’s a new matter; there is no relationship with the initial case. It is common cause the recall letter was withdrawn.”
However, yesterday Justice Hlajoane said the respondents were in contempt.
“It was wrong to have ignored the fact that the matter had still not been finalised,” she said.
“It was improper for the respondents to have corrected their mistakes in court by writing a show cause letter inside proceedings in the main application when the court was yet to make its final decision.”
Justice Hlajoane further ruled the main application was not “moot” as submitted by the respondents.
“The main application can never be said to be moot as the court still had to make a decision after the letter of recall was withdrawn. The application is said to be moot if further legal proceedings with regard to it can have no effect or events have placed it beyond the reach of the law.
“The court still had to make a decision even after the letters of recall were withdrawn.
“The move by the respondents, this time through the government secretary, was against the principle of sub judice.
“The conduct of the respondents to have written letters of show cause in the face of a pending decision is the one that prompted this court to have granted the prayers in the interlocutory application. The conduct of the respondents was bordering on contempt.
“Regarding costs, the court is going to demonstrate its displeasure against the respondents not to have waited for the decision in the main application.
“As a result since the recall letters have been withdrawn, that ends the matter in the main case,” the judge said.