Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko believed in the Rule of Law

February 23rd, 2023

The South African legal profession joined the continent in mourning the death of the human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, who was gunned down on 21 January 2023 at his home in Eswatini. News of Mr Maseko’s death shocked many, as various legal bodies condemned his senseless killing.

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) in its statement on the death of Mr Maseko, pointed out that its President, Mabaeng Denise Lenyai noted that: ‘It is disheartening to see fearless, vocal lawyers who speak against government being killed. The LSSA supports lawyers who fearlessly fight against human rights abuses.’

In 2021, the LSSA wrote an open letter to call on the SADC Troika’s meeting with Acting Prime Minister of Eswatini, Themba Masuku, to ensure that meaningful engagements are held with the country’s civil society and pro-democracy movements. The LSSA further stated that it had engaged with its legal counterparts in Eswatini and was dismayed at the reports emanating from a country that denied access to information, banned the Internet, and threatened lawyers who represent the protestors. The LSSA added that it notes that not much has changed since then as the legal profession in Eswatini is still under continued thread. See the full letter here:

The LSSA calls on the South African government to ensure that the Eswatini government and authorities (who are an integral part of the SADC region) ensure the people and progressive institutions are given the fundamental freedoms that are taken for granted in the region.

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) said that it is of the view that those who killed Mr Maseko are positioned on the opposite side of the democratic forces fighting for the democracy in Eswatini, including the government of Eswatini.

The BLA in its statement pointed out that it condemns – in the strongest possible terms – the tendency of the Eswatini Government to eliminate its opponents instead of listening to them and thus fashion a new path for the country shaped according to the aspiration of its people. The BLA called on the South African government to do all in its power to ensure that in the interest of the rule of law in Eswatini, civil society activists and legal practitioners are not eliminated for demanding a universal right to live in democracy, freedom, and security. The BLA also called on progressive legal practitioners in the region and beyond to join hands in solidarity with legal practitioners and civil society organisations to prevent the Eswatini regime from committing crimes against humanity.

In their statement the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) said it appreciates the brave and exceptional life Mr Maseko lived. The organisation added that Mr Maseko was a beacon of hope for African legal practitioners battling state repression. NADEL pointed out that his bravery, resilience, humbleness and humanity is admired and these values will live on as his legacy. The President of NADEL, Mvuzo Notyesi, said that NADEL, in the loudest and strongest possible terms, condemns the politically motivated killing of Mr Maseko. He added that ‘the oppression targeting political activist[s] must be urgently addressed by [the] Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU) and the international community’.

NADEL pointed out that it joins the Southern Africa Litigation Centre’s call for the SADC to urgently institute an independent judicial investigation into the killing of Mr Maseko and a further call to the AU and SADC to immediately address the increasing targeting and assault of pro-democracy activists by intervening and putting pressure on governments to call out the brutality of the Eswatini regime.

Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council (LPC), Janine Myburgh, in a statement from the LPC said: ‘The LPC is deeply disturbed by [the] heinous act and condemns it in the strongest sense. Legal practitioners in any country are crucial [to] providing access to justice and safeguarding human rights. Any loss of life is sad, but the loss of Maseko is made even more painful by [the] cruelty of the act, notwithstanding the role that he played in the legal system of Eswatini as well as issues of human rights.’

Ms Myburgh added that the LPC calls on law makers and authorities in Eswatini to bring the perpetrators to book and encourage citizens to continue espousing the values and principles Mr Maseko stood for.

The Law Society of Swaziland also condemned the killing of Mr Maseko. The organisation pointed out that Mr Maseko was a man who strongly believed in dialogue and engagement in the pursuit of human rights and legal activism founded on the rights of emaSwati as enshrined in the constitution. The organisation said that not once did Mr Maseko advocate for violence and that he strongly believed in the rule of law and the role of the courts to interpret the constitution in the enforcement of those rights.

The Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association (SADC LA), added that the circumstances of Mr Maseko’s murder has hurt deeply and left the legal profession with an open wound, which instigates an acute sense of vulnerability, fear and lack of confidence in the capacity of authorities to meet the guarantees for protection of lawyers and human rights defenders in Eswatini and the SADC region. The SADC LA pointed out that for far too long an environment of lack of respect for human rights and rule of law has been left unchecked to the extent that safety and security of persons are not guaranteed for civilians, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

The SADC LA has called on the Government of Eswatini, to, among others –

  • take full responsibility to control and contain the extreme levels of long-standing political intolerance and violence within Eswatini through peaceful and democratic means;
  • guarantee the protection of all human rights and secure the role of lawyers and human rights defenders in advancing human rights in Eswatini; and
  • ensure and facilitate a fast and transparent investigation into the death of Mr Maseko, as well as the prosecution and accountability.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.