Outspoken human rights activist, lawyer and chairperson of a body of pro-democracy organisations, Thulani Maseko, was murdered on the 22nd of January in his home in Luyengo, Eswatini. The tragedy has fuelled outrage and condemnation from many within Eswatini, the European Union, the United Nations, the United Kingdom and human rights groups around the world.
Maseko’s killing “has deprived Eswatini, southern Africa and the world of a true champion and advocate for peace, democracy and human rights,” according to Volker Türk, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights. According to The Guardian, the UN has stated its support for efforts by national and regional actors to ensure the prosecution of the perpetrators. To the extent that the UN involves itself in such efforts, non-violent assistance such as conducting investigations, sending peace-keeping troops and mediation between the parties involved is encouraged.
Maseko was the founder of Multistakeholder Forum, an organization advocating for an end to the absolute monarchy. At the time of his death, he had been working as a lawyer, and was defending two people facing charges for offences supposedly committed during the unrest which occurred in 2021 after a law student was murdered by what is suspected to have been security forces.
Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy. The country’s ruler, King Mswati III, is said to have “warned” those advocating for democracy that they would be met with resistance from his “mercenaries,” according to reports from SABC News. Perhaps uncoincidentally, such a warning was given just hours before Maseko’s death at a parade at the royal residence, prompting questions over whether Eswatini’s state security forces were involved in the murder. Such a prospect would be unsurprising, given Mswati’s past allegations of human rights abuses and the state security force’s connections to other such incidences. The royal family boast a lavish lifestyle, whilst his country’s unemployment rate soars to 40%, with nearly 60% of the population in poverty, as reported by the World Bank.
Whether Maseko’s murder and subsequent passing will be a turning point in the country’s efforts to usher in a multiparty democracy will depend largely on the extent to which the international community can exert pressure on the monarchy, and the extent to which those within Eswatini can mobilize against longstanding elites and rulers, as has been the case elsewhere on the continent.
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