“They have intended to hurt us, to break our spirit, our moral strength and crush our resilience so that we succumb to their evil desires.” Excerpts from an open letter from prison written by Thulani Maseko in 2015.
We express our pain and outrage at the brazen assassination of renowned human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko who was gunned down at point-blank range, in front of his wife and children at his home in Luhleko, Mbabane, on the evening of January 21, 2023. This atrocious, cowardly and cold-blooded act came a few hours after King Mswati had issued ‘stern warnings’ to those calling for democratic reforms in the country, and that his hired mercenaries would deal with them.
At the time of his death, Maseko was a senior member of Lawyers for Human Rights Swaziland, and chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a convergence of various stakeholders calling for constitutional reforms in Eswatini. As one of the founding members of SouthernDefenders, Maseko made an immense contribution to the advancement of justice and human rights not only in Eswatini but throughout the Southern Africa region. He has carried out several fact-finding missions to countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi where he reported on the deterioration of civic space in the region.
“A staunch believer in the rule of law and constitutionalism, Maseko used his professional legal skills to advocate for democratic reforms and peaceful transition. It is deeply saddening that his work and selfless dedication has been repaid in such a ruthless and callous act.”, said Professor Adriano Nuvunga, Vice-Chairperson of SouthernDefenders.
In Eswatini, many will attest that Maseko persistently preached the message of peace and love. In the face of great adversity, Maseko remained steadfast in the fight for freedom and justice, courageously raising awareness of the injustices suffered by the people of Eswatini. It is deeply saddening that he has paid the ultimate price with his life in this gruesome and callous manner.
While the government of Eswatini issued a statement condemning the murder of Maseko and its intention to investigate, SouthernDefenders asserts that, given the political environment, only an independent investigation can ensure that those responsible for the assassination of Maseko and many others brutally injured and killed are brought to justice and their families rightfully compensated. We, therefore, call on SADC, the African Union, and the international community to hold the leadership of King Mswati III accountable for the violence that continues to be meted against the people of Eswatini, merely for advocating for their recognized fundamental human rights, including political participation.
We are gravely concerned that the killing of Maseko signifies an increasingly dangerous deterioration of the political crisis in Eswatini. It is terrifying to observe the monarch clamp down on the people it is meant to serve and protect. Eswatini as a member of SADC and signatory to its Treaty is bound to uphold Article 4 of the Treaty which explicitly states that the principles guiding the acts of its members are human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Article 5 of the Treaty further requires all states to promote and defend peace and security. SouthernDefenders reminds Eswatini that as a member state of SADC, its government should comply with the principles and guidelines to which the region is bound. The state of affairs in Eswatini is a clear reflection of the failure of the country’s leadership to defend and maintain peace, security and transparency for its citizens. SADC cannot continue to stand by and watch.
We wish to express our heartfelt condolences to Thulani Maseko’s wife Tanele, their children, the Maseko family, and the human rights community in Eswatini. We reassert our support for and uncompromising solidarity with the people of Eswatini in their continued quest for democracy. We call on the greater Africa and its friends to stand in solidarity with us on behalf of Maseko. His unshaken commitment to the achievement of justice and freedom will be our beacon for all time.
We strongly urge the Eswatini government to:
*Immediately allow for an internationally supported, thorough, independent and expeditious investigation into the circumstances of the killing of Thulani Maseko and others killed since 2021, to ensure justice and full accountability.
* Respect, protect and promote the rights of all under the jurisdiction of Eswatini to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and political participation even if they hold opposing views.
*Release all political prisoners and refrain from the excessive use of force to disperse protestors and refrain from the arbitrary arrest, detention, harassment or intimidation of pro-democracy activists and others expressing opposing views.
*Immediately end the violent rhetoric against pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders.
*Immediately allow for an inclusive and genuine political dialogue to usher in a democratic dispensation in Eswatini.