Gunmen in Eswatini killed a prominent opposition politician and human rights lawyer at his home, hours after the country’s autocratic monarch challenged activists against his rule.
Thulani Maseko was shot dead on Saturday night by unidentified assailants in Luhleko, about 50km from the capital Mbabane, opposition spokesman Sikelela Dlamini told AFP.
The spokesman said he was told that “assassins had shot him through a window while he was inside. [the] home with his family”.
Dlamini added: “Details are still scarce (and due to the trauma his family members are going through, they are not yet ready to speak).
The government has offered condolences to the family, saying Maseko’s death is a “loss to the nation” and that police are searching for the killers.
Maseko is a leading human rights lawyer and columnist in Eswatini who has had a pending court battle with King Mswati III over the monarch’s decision to rename the country Eswatini in accordance with the decree. Comeinand.
The country’s name was changed from Swaziland to Eswatini to celebrate its 50th independence from Britain in 2018.
Maseko’s view was that the king had disobeyed the constitution in the process. In 2014, he and The Nation magazine editor, Bheki Makhubu, were jailed for defying the court over articles critical of the government and judiciary.
Maseko is the founder of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF), a coalition of opposition parties, associations and churches.
His death comes just hours after the king challenged activists to fight to end Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
King Mswati said: “People should not shed tears and complain about mercenaries killing them.
“These people started the violence first, but when the state launched a crackdown on them for their actions, they made a fuss and blamed King Mswati for bringing in mercenaries,” he said.
Last week, the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) alleged that the king had hired mercenaries, mostly white Afrikaners from neighboring South Africa, to help Eswatini’s security forces quell growing opposition. increase for his regime.
However, government spokesman Alpheous Nxumalo said: “No assassins have been hired.”
The rights group Freedom Under Law, which operates across southern Africa, has pointed the finger at the government.
“Somehow, the startling news that Thulani Maseko was shot dead in cold blood comes as no surprise,” it said in a statement.
“As a relentless and fearless human rights lawyer, an outspoken critic of the regime in her dear Eswatini, Thulani has suffered too long at the hands of a heartless regime. No one can be fooled by the cynical message of condolence delivered on behalf of the government,” it added.
The European Union called for the killers to be arrested and expressed “deep concern” about the situation in Eswatini.
“The EU calls on the authorities to ensure the safety of all citizens, including political activists,” it said in a statement.
“This tragic loss follows a series of murders, arson attacks and other acts of violence that have destabilized the country over the past months.”
The bloc called on the authorities to urgently conduct “comprehensive dialogue… towards national reconciliation, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and ultimately, lasting peace”.
The US Embassy in Mbabane expressed its “deep sadness” and offered its “deepest condolences to the family, friends and admirers of Mr. Maseko around the world”.
“Eswatini and the world have lost a strong voice on nonviolence and human rights,” the embassy added.
Condolence Statement on the passing of Human Rights Attorney Thulani R. Maseko. pic.twitter.com/pBKimhIwST
— Embassy of the United States of America Eswatini (@USEmbEswatini) January 22, 2023
King Mswati, who has ruled since 1986, is regularly accused of human rights abuses. The king, who can dissolve parliament and government and appoint or remove judges, also commands the police and the army.
In June 2021, pro-democracy protests turned violent, leaving several people dead.
In April 2022, members of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), South Africa’s third largest political party, organize peaceful protests along the country’s border with Eswatini, in solidarity with human rights activists there.