In pursuit of justice

In pursuit of justice

MASERU – WHEN Salemane Phafane was 11 years old, his father was arrested for his political activism.
He was to spend the next two years from 1970 to 1972 behind bars at the Maseru Maximum Security Prison without charge.
For the young Phafane, his father’s incarceration was an act of gross injustice that ran counter to his sense of justice.
The Leabua Jonathan government had lost the 1970 general election but refused to relinquish power to Ntsu Mokhehle of the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP).

Jonathan went on to suspend the constitution and declare a state of emergency, plunging Lesotho into political turmoil.
The government then unleashed a major crackdown on all dissenting voices. Phafane’s father was among those who were picked up and jailed during the crackdown.

The arrest and jailing of his father planted within the young Phafane a strong desire to “right the wrongs done by the bad people” against the “good ones”. From that moment, Phafane says he really wanted to be a lawyer to fight the rampant injustices in society.
Phafane says he grew up as an angry child whose sole purpose in life was to correct the wrongs that were done to good people by the bad ones.
He says his family suffered immensely in his father’s absence.

His mother was like a widow for those two years and Phafane and his siblings grew up like orphans.
“The pain was unbearable for us,” he says.
He says he remembers vividly how he would alternate with his brother to go to the veld to look after their family livestock. When duty called, he would miss school.

“Our performance in school deteriorated because of that. We missed too many lessons,” he says.
Yet in spite of such challenges, Phafane says he was one of only three pupils who passed the Standard Seven exams when he finished his primary school.

He says when he was sitting for his exams, his mother would take the livestock to the pastures, an abomination among Basotho.
Among Basotho, especially in the rural villages, it is still common for women to stay at home and let men or boys tend the livestock.
Even those who do not have sons or husbands are brought relatives’ sons to look after the livestock if for some reasons they cannot afford to hire herdsmen.

This has been the practice among Basotho for many years.
And so they felt embarrassed to go to school while their mother looked after the livestock.
Phafane grew up in the rural village of Ha-Tšilo in Matsieng.
He was born 58 years ago.

After his father’s arrest and detention, he at first did not know there were people who could be hired to fight for the oppressed.
It was only after his mother took him to Maseru to meet “a certain man” who was fighting to get his father released from prison that light dawned on him.

“I had heard that my father was going to be hanged and when I learnt that these men were going to save my father’s neck, that inspired me to be a lawyer,” he says. “That was when I decided that when I grew up I was going to be a lawyer. And I am a lawyer now.”
Phafane says his father was an ordinary man who became well known in his village for his articulate delivery at the chief’s court.
It was his father who also inspired him to pursue law after he was released from prison.

“My father, I think he had observed me well, and he used to tell other men in the village that I was going to be a lawyer,” he says.
“That encouraged me a lot.” So, when Phafane went to the then Moshoeshoe II Secondary School he had already made up his mind that he was going to study hard so that he would become a lawyer.

Phafane says he wanted to go to university so much that he would do almost anything to achieve his dream of being a lawyer.
He says although he was good in his studies overall he really struggled with Mathematics and failed the subject in his Cambridge exams.
“I couldn’t be admitted at the university without science and maths,” he says.

But because he was determined to become a lawyer, Phafane enrolled for a Diploma in Law with the National University of Lesotho (NUL), a programme which was meant for those who would become Local Court presidents. “I told myself that I was going to pass with good marks so that the university would allow me to go further,” he says.

“I passed with distinctions and the university had no option but to register me for BA Law,” he says.
After that he went for the LLB which he completed in 1987. Phafane spent seven years at the university studying law – two years for a diploma, three years for BA Law and another two years for LLB.

He really wanted to be a lawyer. He joined GG Nthethe Attorneys where his skills were further sharpened by Attorney Goitsemang Nthethe and his partner, Advocate Karabo Mohau, who is now a King’s Counsel. He worked for the law firm for eight years until 1995 when he opened Phafane Chambers, now on his own.

But practising law has not been an easy sail. He says his induction into the profession was “a baptism of fire”.
As a greenhorn in legal practice, he found himself having to defend his boss Nthethe in court for a crime he was alleged to have committed.
He was assisting a senior lawyer who was well respected in those days, Attorney Lehlohonolo Pheko, and Nthethe was acquitted.
“I learnt a lot from that man,” he says.

He also says in another case, still very new in the profession, the police arrested him at the gate of the Chief Justice’s residence where they were going to meet for a case together with Nthethe and Mohau. “I had arrived first and as I neared the Chief Justice’s gate they picked me up. They forced me to abandon my car right there and loaded me into their Land Rover,” he says.

On the way they picked up Nthethe and Mohau who were going to the Chief Justice’s residence.
Their ‘crime’ was that they were representing people who had been tortured in the police’s holding cells.
“We spent the night at the police and the following day Mohau and I were released. We headed straight to our office and without having bathed we went to court and filed for his release,” he says.

“It was this case that made me a solid lawyer I am now, who will not be intimidated by anybody.”
Phafane declined to delve into the current instability in the judiciary and the legal practice only saying that he had “contributed significantly towards the development of our jurisprudence in various fields, civil, criminal and constitutional”.
“The Lesotho Law Reports speak for themselves,” he says.

Advocate Salemane Phafane KC has built a strong reputation as an astute lawyer, defending difficult cases, both criminal and civil.
In most cases when Phafane defends a high profile crime suspect, the crown often hires senior lawyers from South Africa to prosecute.
One of his recent cases ended with the acquittal of his client, the now Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki in March this year.

Moleleki was discharged after Phafane argued that the crown could not bring charges against him without providing a docket that contained the findings of the police. The crown failed to provide the docket, which gave an impression that the charges against Moleleki were trumped up.
With 30 years’ experience of practice, Phafane has seen it all in the courts and has learned from both bad and good experiences.

He says he reached the peak of his legal practice in July 2008 when King Letsie III conferred on him the honour and dignity of King’s Counsel.
“That really marked the climax of my career. It is really humbling and I owe that to a lot of people, my family as a whole especially my wife,” he says.
“Practising law is taxing on the family because you don’t spend time with them. You spend time with the books and clients.”

He says he has no idea what he could have been had he not become a lawyer “because that is what I grew up to become”.
However, Phafane is not only a lawyer. He is also a football administrator of repute throughout Africa and beyond.
Although he never played football – thanks to his father who prevented him for fear that he would be injured and fail to go to school – Phafane has been at the helm of the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) for the past 15 years.

He started as the secretary general of Bantu during his early years as a lawyer.
He says he represented Bantu in some important cases and he had a lot of clients in Mafeteng until the team’s followers started regarding him as one of their own.

This is because he was working with Nthethe, a strong supporter of Bantu.
“To the Bantu people, it did not matter that my home district is Maseru and they defended me when I was referred to as a Matlama follower,” he says.
“I began feeling that I was part of them,” he says.

It was at Bantu where LEFA noticed his administration ability and soon he was elected to the association’s secretary general position.
That is where he learnt how the national association should be run, from the likes of the now High Court judge Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi who is a football enthusiast and LEFA’s first secretary general.

He was later elected the association’s president. Phafane has also served as COSAFA vice-president for two terms.
He also served COSAFA for many years in the finance committee and as a chairman for constitutional and legal affairs.
He served CAF in various committees for many years helping in its legal affairs.

He also worked in FIFA’s World Organising Committee. Phafane rubbishes claims that local football standards have gone down under his leadership.
He says in the past seven years the youth national side reached the CAF finals twice.
In the past two years Likuena improved dramatically in the FIFA world rankings.

“In 2016 we reached a record mark in FIFA ranking since 1932 – we broke the 100 mark.”
“We are playing reasonably well,” he says. He says the improvements have come despite that the national teams have meagre resources and are underfunded. He says the current Minster of Sports is very helpful and supports the association.
“Our national teams are taking good shape and there is hope for a bright future in football,” he says.

Caswell Tlali

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