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Tough as a nail



MASERU-Tough, resolute and unwavering on his principles even in the face of adversity. Advocate Fusi Sehapi says it is the hard times he endured as a child that prepared him for the tough road ahead.
Negative perceptions often follow his publicly stated views. But he stands firm on his beliefs.

Like weathering an avalanche of criticism by fellow lawyers when he challenged the criterion used to bestow individuals with the King’s Counsel title.
Or withstanding denigration when he challenged the blanket approach of Covid-19 immunisation irrespective of one’s religious beliefs.

The 35-year-old started working as a shepherd when he was only five years old and paid his own fees after enrolling himself in a school when he turned nine.
“I would be envious of other children when I saw them going to school while I remained behind looking after livestock,” Advocate Sehapi told thepost in an interview recently.
“When I became nine I had worked enough to pay my school fees,” he said.

His driving ambition was to fight injustice as a lawyer.

“It was at that age when I resolved to be a lawyer,” said Advocate Sehapi, who later studied law at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
The Mafeteng district-born lawyer said he was raised by a mother who was almost always away from home as she was working in Van Rooyen, South Africa, at a farm and in other places depending on the availability of a job.

“I had to work for other people as a shepherd so that I could pay my fees. At first, I wanted to be a shepherd in the village so that I could be able to eat,” he said.
The resolve to become a professional who could stand and fight for human rights started at that time, recalled Advocate Sehapi.

“I always believed that my rights as a child were being violated and nobody seemed to care.”

When he returned home to reunite with his mother, she began to support him with some necessities needed to further his education, although he continued paying his own fees.
“My performance was good and I always had a unique way of handling my studies,” he said. “I would always argue with my teachers on things I felt should not be done in a way they did but as a child I would let go when they insisted on what they were doing.”

Of his days at NUL, Advocate Sehapi says “My aim of studying law was not just to be a lawyer but to implement law where I find a need to do so.”
When he graduated from law school in 2014, Sehapi practised under Advocate Zwelakhe Mda KC’s law firm based in Mafeteng.

“He took me by the hand and showed me the way,” said Sehapi, adding that his academic performance at school had been affected by a loss of his hearing sense which lowered his confidence levels.

“But since I was already attached to Advocate Mda, he was never disappointed in my studies. In fact he motivated me even more. He told me that what matters is how I make myself a better lawyer,” said Advocate Sehapi.

What was important, he said Advocate Mda told him, was how he would differentiate himself from other lawyers.
“He told me that my uniqueness will always come out in my practice.”

Advocate Sehapi, who was little known before the advent of Covid-19, made headlines when he filed an application in the High Court challenging the Chief Justice’s prerogative to advise the King to bestow the title of King’s Counsel to deserving lawyers.

He also claimed that he qualified for the title.

He argued that he should not wait to complete 15 years of practice to be appointed as the King’s Counsel, saying the current arrangement is “contrary to England and Commonwealth jurisdictions practice on conferring the status of Queen’s Counsel, King’s Counsel or Senior Counsel”.

He lost the case, but says he is proud of the arguments he raised and hopes they ignited debate among lawyers locally and abroad.

Using several mediums, including social media, scores of lawyers criticised Advocate Sehapi, and accused him of overrating himself.

The other case that put Advocate Sehapi on the spotlight is when he led some civil society organisations that were seeking to block a government-imposed mandatory Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The applicants included the Christian Advocates and Ambassadors of Lesotho, Justice and Democratic Ambassadors Association and the Lesotho Public Service Staff Association.

The application sought an order to halt the implementation of the Public Health (Covid-19) Risk Determination and Mitigation Measures (Amendment) (No 4) Regulations of 2021.

He won the case, although the victory came after the government had already relaxed the mandatory vaccination for all people who visited public places, including shops and health centres.
The third case, which is pending in the High Court, is one in which he is challenging the Communications (Subscriber Identity Module Registration) Regulations of 2021, saying the regulations are illegal.

The aim of the regulations is to curtail criminal activities involving the use of mobile devices and SIM cards by anonymous users.
The process of registering SIM cards started in June last year and has to be completed within 12 months.

After June 24, 2023, all unregistered active SIM cards will be deactivated, Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) has warned.
Advocate Sehapi argues that the regulations violate ordinary people’s rights to privacy, also warning that they leave room for communication companies to misuse people’s personal information.
He says he does things differently from other lawyers.

“I recall Justice Molefi Makara telling me that I have a problem as I do not want to do things the normal way. He was so mad at me but fortunately he is now the one who is impressed with my work,” he said.

Advocate Sehapi says he believes “it’s not over until it’s over”.

He says he is at a point where he is seeking to develop a law that will mandate the government to respond to the social problems of the people.
The government, he says, should not be allowed to do things at will but should follow the law.
“I want to use law as a tool for social development,” he says.

He argues that under the current system, the law allows the government to fold its arms instead of acting when people are suffering from lack of services.
For example, he says he cannot sue the government for failing to bring health services closer to the people.
There is no law that forces the government to act, he says.

He cites a case in which an organisation representing street vendors, Khathang Tema Baitšokoli, lost a bid to stop the Maseru City Council from removing them from locations where they could easily sell their goods.

“They lost the case because the judgment indicated that the court cannot make a judgement that has a financial implication to the state,” says Advocate Sehapi.

Advocate Sehapi referred to this case when he was arguing on behalf of doctors who complained that the law does not protect them and yet they were working under unhealthy conditions.
“The court agreed with me, saying the law should be developed. At first the court did not agree with me but eventually Covid-19 came and that was when the court agreed with me,” he says.
He says a person should be able to claim the right to health because “violation of that right automatically impacts on the right to life”.

“You can’t separate the right to life from the right to good health because if a person is unhealthy gradually he is dying.”

Another of his cases is the right of the Ha-Tšosane community to claim good health by pushing for the removal of a hazardous rubbish dumpsite.
The case is pending in the High Court.

He says the doctors’ working environment case helped him develop the law, then followed by the Covid-19 case which he believed was “a spiritual case” to him.
“There was no case of this kind worldwide. I can’t take credit for it, rather I give credit to God,” he says.

’Malimpho Majoro

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