Maverick Citizen


In honour of the memory and legacy of Eswatini rights lawyer, comrade Thulani Rudolf Maseko

In honour of the memory and legacy of Eswatini rights lawyer, comrade Thulani Rudolf Maseko
Thulani Maseko. (Photo: Supplied)

As we remember Thulani, we must also appeal to the progressive movement to protect and defend the memory and legacy of this stalwart of our struggle.

One year ago, the country was shaken to the core by the horrific story of the assassination of the beloved son of the soil, leader of the Multi-Stakeholder  Forum, Mr Thulani Rudolf Maseko. The horror of his murder was hard to believe. It hit the country and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) like lightning. Everyone who knew Thulani, the humble servant, peacemaker, father, husband, comrade, human rights lawyer and community leader, was shocked and angered by the scale of the barbarism inflicted on such a gentle soul. 

His death sparked a global avalanche of condemnation, and a demand for an independent investigation, from a broad spectrum of international organisations and governments, including the United Nations (UN), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), the US and many independent human rights organisations, politicians and political parties. 

Who killed Thulani?

A year on, it’s still hard to comprehend why Thulani was assassinated and who killed him. Why would anyone choose to kill the most compelling symbol of a peacemaker in the Swazi struggle? Why has the government resisted the call for an independent investigation into the murder? 

Former Maverick Citizen editor Mark Heywood penned a powerful tribute in 2023, in which he suggested that not only the king but the region, the SADC, the AU and the international community were complicit in his death by their failure to bring pressure to bear on the king and the tinkhundla regime to follow through with the promised mediated national dialogue.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Who killed Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko? 

Over the past 12 months the government’s position on the investigation has been oscillating without any discernible direction or conclusion. Their initial position was dismissive of the demand and concerns of the MDM and the international community that the government could not exclude itself from possible complicity in the assassination of comrade Thulani since the security forces had been central in the massacre of unarmed citizens and activists since June 2021. In the circumstances, it did not make sense that the police would insist on investigating themselves. Instead of clarifying these pertinent matters or offering cogent reasons for the government’s refusal to accept the call for an independent investigation, the government spokespersons have been feeding the public a lot of hot air, pure propaganda and unfounded conspiracy theories in an attempt to shift the blame for the assassination and pin it on elements of the progressive movement. 

Thulani Maseko

Kenyan human rights activists and members of civil society organisations gather for a peaceful protest in Nairobi on 30 January 2023 against the deaths of human rights defenders in Africa, including the killing in Eswatini human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Daniel Irungu)

Condemning the public abuse of Tanele Maseko by government spokespersons

There have been unfortunate incidents targeting of Thulani’s widow, Tanele, by the government, heaping all sorts of insults and ridicule on her. These government statements have been cruel towards the Maseko family in general and specifically abusive towards her – clearly calculated to traumatise and intimidate her to shut up and accept the incredulous, self-serving government position on the assassination of her husband. 

This barbaric attitude must be condemned in the strongest terms as it is disgraceful, hurtful and abhorrent to our culture as it offends our basic norms of decency and respect for a wife grieving the cruel assassination of her husband. The government cannot in good conscience blame the Maseko family for believing that the state may be complicit in the killing of comrade Thulani.

Tanele Maseko

Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko’s wife, Tanele. (Photo: Leon Sadiki)

There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that has come to light in various forms and leaks through social media that paints a strong suspicion that the state or its proxies may have been involved in the killing of Thulani. Equally startling was the address of Emabutfo by the king on the same day of the assassination of comrade Thulani. The king took the opportunity to mock and scold activists, raising the alarm about the activities of mercenaries in the country. In this infamous speech, the king rebuffed the national outcry over the covert activities of the mercenaries and stated that “they must not cry” when they are now “being worked upon”. Hardly five hours after the king’s speech, Thulani was assassinated in the most cruel and brutal way imaginable. This terrible act propelled the suspicion that his death was an assassination authorised by the state.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eswatini authorities accused of attempting to silence Justice for Thulani campaign

A whole year has passed, and the government has not demonstrated any serious political will to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the assassination, just as they have refused to take accountability for the more than 100 citizens killed by security forces since June 2021. In these circumstances, in the court of public opinion and in the absence of any credible explanation, the victims and their families are entitled to conclude that the state is dragging its feet because it is complicit or the truth is inconvenient.

In the absence of contrary evidence, we have to conclude that Thulani’s assassination was a desperate evil hand to kill the messenger of hope and to derail the struggle and ward off international pressure for a negotiated political solution.

Eswatini King Mswati. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

No struggle is smooth sailing

We know that there are many unseen potholes, hidden traps, stumps and storms on the road to liberation. However, notwithstanding this general calculus, the MDM could not have been prepared for the depth of the evil and savageness that the enemy displayed in the manner the assassin took Thulani’s life. It defined the ungodly nature and bankrupt character of the political system and its leaders who have no confidence in their own governance doctrines, values, legal institutions and justice systems. When challenged, such a system can only assert itself and its power and authority through violence and underhanded acts, like a coward, thief or robber operating in shadows and darkness. Such weak mentality and leadership cannot build statehood and institutions bound by established norms powered by disciplined human capital, innovation, universal respect for human rights and the free flow of ideas in society.

On the other hand, the regime was shocked to feel the power of international solidarity unleashed by the example of servant leadership and respect for human rights and the defence of the humanity of others, which defined the character and qualities embodied in the leadership of Thulani. He became even more powerful in death, and his call for the liberation of the people and the restoration of a democratic order was unstoppable. His death has generated unprecedented global scrutiny upon the country and its leaders. The US Congress has, for the first time in the history of our country, put possible sanctions against the king and other state actors on the table for violence against and murder of unarmed civilians. Further solidarity support has emerged from all over the world, demanding accountability and justice for Thulani. 

Kenyan human rights defenders hold candlelight vigil in protest against the murder of Eswatini human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, in Nairobi on 28 January 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/ Daniel Irungu)

Kenyan human rights activists and members of civil society organisations protest against the deaths of human rights defenders in Africa, including Eswatini lawyer Thulani Maseko, in Nairobi on 30 January 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Daniel Irungu)

We must also remember comrade Thulani’s family, his wife and children who witnessed first-hand the horror of his assassination. To them the horror is permanently embedded in their minds and consciousness. They will always need our support and prayers. We salute and thank them for the enormous sacrifice they are making towards the liberation of the people and the country.

As we remember Thulani, we must also appeal to the progressive movement to protect and defend the memory and legacy of this stalwart of our struggle. We must avoid impulsive utterances and conjectures that may have the unintended consequence of blemishing his supreme sacrifices or casting doubt about the atrocities of the state and indirectly exonerating the authorities of his murder without any objective basis. 

Eswatini law Thulani Maseko

Thulani Maseko. (Photo: Supplied)

These speculations and conjectures play into the hands of the enemies of the struggle. They are not helpful in the domestic and global campaign to hold the authorities to account for the deployment of a third force and the mercenaries to silence opponents of the government. The call for justice for Thulani and the more than 100 victims brutally killed, as well as the hundreds injured by the security forces since the June 2021 massacre, must remain the unifying focus of the global campaigns of the MDM. 

Let us honour and cherish the memory of this hero of our struggle and defend his legacy. We accordingly add our voice to salute and pay our respect to the memory and contribution of the global call for justice for Thulani. A luta continua! DM

Mandla Hlatshwayo is a Swazi political activist and chairperson of the Letfu Sonkhe Institute for Strategic Thinking, an independent and not-for-profit think tank with the core mandate of fostering good governance through applied research in policy issues and policy analysis, mainly on the political and economic dimensions of development in Eswatini.


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