Leading Swazi political activist, government critic and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was shot dead by unknown assailants on Saturday night in an apparent assassination.
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Thulani Maseko, 52, who headed the Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF) of political parties and civil society groups leading the campaign for democracy in the kingdom, was shot through the windows of his home in Bhunya in the Manzini region. He was watching TV at the time of the attack, according to local journalists.
“We still lack details, and because of the trauma inflicted on his family members, they are not yet ready to talk,” Dlamini said. The shooters apparently did not enter the house or take anything.
The Times of Eswatini posted a photograph on its Facebook page showing two bullet holes in a window of the house. Maseko’s wife, Tanele Maseko, and children were with him when he died, journalists said.
Shocked fellow activists and human rights defenders in Eswatini and across the region hailed Maseko as “the epitome of human rights law” and called for an independent regional investigation of his murder.
Executive director of the SALC Anna Meerkotter said: “Few lawyers embody the spirit of constitutionalism the way Thulani Maseko did. For us, and all those who knew him, he was a flagbearer for democracy and human rights. Even in the darkest hours, Thulani stood strong, defending those who were persecuted, despite huge risks to his own safety. We call on SADC to investigate the killing of Thulani, and to call out the continued impunity against those who target critics of the monarchy.”
Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change, said it mourned “a fearless advocate for democracy and social justice”. The Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network condemned “the cold-blooded murder” of Maseko and said those responsible “must be brought to justice”.
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) hailed Maseko as “a brave human being who fought tirelessly against the undemocratic regime in defence of people’s basic human rights and dignity”. National director Wayne Ncube said LHR was ready to carry on his fight in unity with democratic voices in Eswatini and called on the South African government to “play a more active diplomatic role in ensuring greater protection for human rights defenders in the region”.
The Swazi government expressed its condolences, said its security forces were seeking the “criminals” responsible and warned against speculation about who was responsible. However, some opposition activists immediately pointed fingers at the state. The offshore investigative news site Swazi News claimed it would produce witnesses who had seen police officers escort “King Mswati’s hitmen after the assassination”.
The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), exiled in South Africa, said Maseko was killed “a few hours after Mswati had bragged about hiring mercenaries to defend himself against those opposed to his regime”.
SSN appeared to be referring to a speech Mswati gave earlier on Saturday afternoon in which he “declared unreservedly that the ‘demonic elements’ perpetrating disharmony and disrespect among EmaSwati will be eliminated in this new year,” according to the Swaziland Observer, a mainstream newspaper.
King Mswati referred to Swazis who continued to burn properties and kill people during 2022 — a year after violent unrest erupted in the country in June 2021 during pro-democracy protests. “Whoever continues with this demonic behaviour will face the consequences this year,” The King warned, according to the Swazi Observer. TheTimes of Eswatini in its Sunday edition reported that Mswati’s government had recently hired a private military expert, Arno Pienaar, to establish a special military-police unit which was already dealing with “acts of terror”.
The U.S. Embassy in Mbabane expressed its “deep sadness” and sent its condolences to “the family (…) and his admirers around the world”: “Eswatini has lost a powerful voice for non-violence and human rights”.