Wake-up call in Eswatini: Thulani Maseko’s assassination hours after threats by Africa’s last absolute monarch

Gianluigi Guercia / AFP

24 January 2023. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is deeply saddened and outraged by the assassination, on 21 January 2023, of Thulani Rudolf Maseko, a longtime comrade and a fervent Eswatini Human Rights defender. His tragic death intervened shortly after King Mswati III, the country’s absolute monarch since 1986, made threats boasting the prospect of getting killed by mercenaries for those opposing him. The international NGO believes that this killing must be a wake-up call, had it not been clear before, to the true nature of the absolute monarch’s rule.

Shock and anger were felt across the whole of the Human Rights movement in the world. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and all its members wish to express their deep condolences after Thulani Rudolf Maseko was murdered in his home, in front of his family, by an unknown gunman on Saturday 21 January. As a key member of Southern Africa’s civil society, a Human Rights lawyer and publicly opposed to the absolute monarch system of government, Mr. Maseko collaborated many times with FIDH and its members and delegations in the region. He shared his fight openly with the international federation and in turn it followed his work at the same time monitoring the repression and reprisals he faced as a result.

FIDH is deeply concerned that the assassination was preceded by the King’s public declarations and remarks hours before threatening retribution against activists. That such grave Human Rights violations and outright political assassination appear to be incited by the King is the reality that the international community needs to accept when dealing with Eswatini. Hours before the cold blooded murder of the internationally respected human rights lawyer, King Mswati III declared “nobody should shed any tears, or complain if mercenaries kill them”. In the same speech he added that "These people started the violence first but when the state institutes a crackdown on them for their actions, they make a lot of noise blaming King Mswati for bringing in mercenaries.” With such remarks from the King, the inescapable conclusion many reach is that the murder could be reprisals against human rights activists for expressing dissenting voices or political opposition.

Absolute monarchy has led to the worst abuse of power and human rights violations

"Whether the king’s threats were an ill-fated warning or the expression of something darker, relishing as the bearer of deathly promises, both are undeserving of a public figure and a monarch."

Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH

"I mourn Thulani Maseko as a friend, I honour him as a colleague in the grand fight for democracy, Human Rights, and freedom. I join my call together with those from colleagues and comrades around the world. We call for an investigation to uncover those responsible for this terrible tragedy", declared Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH.

Thulani Maseko’s fight for democracy and Human Rights had led to repeated gripes with the authorities. He suffered through several episodes of arbitrary detention, but it did not stop him from taking King Mswati III to court over his change of the country’s name from Swaziland to Eswatini. The change, he argued, had been irregular and unconstitutional, a symbol of the king’s arbitrary rule which has seen protests that were met with lethal repression in 2021. Thulani Maseko bravely stood up for the victims, defending arrested protesters in court and facilitating arrangements to guarantee their right to a fair trial in which their fundamental rights were protected.

FIDH calls for a comprehensive independent internationally supervised investigation into Thulani Maseko’s assassination with a view to bring the perpetrators and their sponsors to justice irrespective of their position in society. It also urges Eswatini’s international partners to reconsider their approach and take urgent and concrete decisions for the resolution of the political and human rights crisis in Eswatini through an inclusive dialogue. FIDH calls on the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) to place the fight against impunity for serious human rights violations at the heart of their collaboration with the authorities of Eswatini.

Read more