Maverick Citizen


Who killed Thulani Maseko? The deafening silence from Eswatini and SADC about a serious investigation

A month has passed since the assassination of Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. However, there seems to be little political will in Eswatini or the SADC to investigate the murder and identify his killers. On Friday Amnesty International, which has 10 million members across the world, launched a global letter-writing campaign to demand justice for his murder.

In the aftermath of Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko’s assassination on 21 January 2023, there have been widespread and growing calls for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to launch an internationally supervised independent investigation into his killing. 

These calls have emanated from the UN human rights experts, organisations of African lawyers and judges and international NGOs such as Freedom House and Amnesty International.

In South Africa, Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, told Maverick Citizen that South Africa too had condemned the assassination, but he fudged the question as to whether it supported an independent investigation saying, “Yes, South Africa endorses the call for an investigation”.

By contrast, a day earlier the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for “a prompt, independent, impartial, transparent and thorough investigation, under the auspices of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN, into the attacks against other pro-democracy and human rights activists and the alleged recruitment of mercenaries to help security forces repress opposition”.

Significantly the European Parliament linked this to a call on the European Union “to review and, where applicable, suspend support programmes for Eswatini where funds risk being used for activities that violate human rights”; and then “instructed its President to forward this resolution to the Kingdom of Eswatini and to all relevant stakeholders and institutions”.

However, there is a danger that these calls – even though they come from powerful institutions – are falling on deaf ears. 

Read the full resolution here:  

In response, the government of Eswatini issued a statement claiming the resolution was neither “binding or compelling” because it had been “canvassed by independent members of the European Parliament, not by the incumbent or sitting government parties from the European bloc”.


Murdered human rights lawyer Thulani Rudolf Maseko. (Photo: Supplied)

SADC dithers

On 30 January at an extraordinary summit of the SADC Troika on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, the Troika condemned the killing in unusually strong terms. But it stopped short of taking the investigation into its own hands, as it has the power to do and has done in the past in relation to other political murders, including in Lesotho

Instead, in a communique issued after a meeting in late January, it “urged the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini to conduct a swift, transparent and comprehensive investigation into the killing of Mr Maseko”. 

Democracy activists in Eswatini argue this is insufficient because Maseko’s killing is just one of a number of assassinations that are clearly emanating from the Eswatini government and its security forces. They insist the kingdom’s monarch “cannot be trusted to investigate itself”.

As a result, in a 30 January 2023 letter addressed to Namibian President Hage Geingob, the Secretary-General of the Multistakeholder Forum (MSF), “an umbrella body made up of various CSOs and non-state actors across Swaziland”, requested SADC to “immediately establish an investigation inquiry led by the SADC and working with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, to ensure a swift, thorough and independent investigation …”. 

However, to date no response has been received to this letter, leaving it unclear who will take the lead in establishing an investigation. And the danger that none may happen at all.

The SADC Secretariat did not respond to our questions last week. 

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Meanwhile, as pro-democracy activists warned, there is no sign that the Eswatini government is prioritising the investigation into Maseko’s murder. 

On Friday, Alpheus Nxumalo, a spokesperson for the Eswatini government, told Maverick Citizen that “investigations by the national security organs of the state are under way” in all the murder cases that had occurred in the past months, adding that some suspects had been been apprehended and had appeared in court on murder charges. Some of the breakthroughs went as far back as 2021, he said. The Maseko case was, therefore, “being investigated alongside with many other cases”.  

Asked about the apparent lack of political will, Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, told Maverick Citizen.

“It’s frustrating and disheartening whenever we don’t see the political will necessary to properly resource and conduct a thorough investigation of the killing of a Human Rights Defender. 

“Unfortunately Thulani’s case is all too common, and we rarely see the perpetrators held to account for the murders of defenders anywhere in the world. I knew Thulani personally, and find it hard to think that his killers might not face justice. 

Let’s see though; there is still time for the authorities to mount a serious investigation and to bring a conviction or convictions, but they have to be motivated to do it.

Asked whether she could facilitate or initiate an independent investigation, Lawlor replied:

“I can’t initiate an investigation, it’s beyond my remit. It’s for States to run their criminal justice systems, and they are supposed to do that without corruption, with impartiality, and with transparency. 

“This is a major test for the authorities in Eswatini, because their actions – or inactions – are being scrutinized all over the world. If they fail to bring those responsible for Thulani’s killing to account it will be a major stain on their international reputation. This attention on them isn’t going to go away.

She said that if there were no credible independent investigation it would be a “major injustice, and it will be noted and publicised by international media on every continent. It will also be hard for his family and friends to know that someone got away with his murder. That pain doesn’t go away easily. 

“Second, it means the Eswatini authorities will have failed to meet their international obligations, and their standing across the region and across the world will be damaged and diminished. It’s a huge test for the State of Eswatini’s credibility, one it can’t afford to fail.”

But whilst politicians dither, civil society seems unwilling to let Maseko’s murder go. On Friday Amnesty International, which has ten million members across the world, launched a global letter writing campaign to demand justice for Thulani.

According to Shenhilla Mohamed, the Executive Director of Amnesty International SA, “This is part of a worldwide campaign under Amnesty’s Urgent Action program. Urgent Actions call on members, supporters and individuals to flood the mailboxes, inboxes, phones and social media of authorities when someone is in imminent danger of human rights violations or to push for justice.” DM/MC


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