Eswatini: Democracy a Matter of Life and Death

By Andrew Firmin, Editor-in-Chief at CIVICUS

Thulani Maseko knew speaking out in Eswatini was a risky business. An activist and well-known human rights lawyer, he’d previously spent 14 months in jail for criticising the country’s lack of judicial independence. Now he’s dead, shot in his home by unknown assailants.

Among those Maseko litigated against was the country’s tyrannical ruler, King Mswati III. Mswati, in power since 1986, is Africa’s last remaining absolute monarch. In 2018, in one indication of his unchecked power, he changed the country’s name to Eswatini from Swaziland, unilaterally and without warning. Maseko was planning to take Mswati to court to challenge the renaming on constitutional grounds.

Maseko was chair of the Multi-Party Forum, a network bringing together civil society groups, political parties, businesses and others to urge a peaceful transition to multiparty democracy. He was also the lawyer of two members of parliament – Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube – arrested and detained in 2021 on terrorism charges for calling for constitutional democracy.

It isn’t yet clear why Maseko was killed or whether those who did the deed were acting on their own initiative or following someone else’s orders. But for many in the country’s democracy movement, it’s more than a little suspicious that just before the killing Mswati is reported to have said the state would ‘deal with’ people calling for democratic reforms. Maseko had reportedly received death threats.

Civil society is calling for Maseko’s killing to be properly investigated. Those carrying out the investigation should be independent and ensure whoever is behind it is held to account, however high the trail goes. But there seems little hope of that.

Read on Inter Press Service News