Memorial service of Thulani Maseko

March 1st, 2023

The judiciary and legal profession across the African continent, joined the family and human rights network, SouthernDefenders, for a memorial service of slain human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, at the University of Pretoria’s Law Auditorium on 3 February 2023. The gathering was held to remember and celebrate the life of Mr Maseko. Speakers from various parts of the African Continent shared stories of their encounters with Mr Maseko, but also used his memorial to condemn and call for justice to prevail against the government of Eswatini.

Former Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa, Justice Dikgang Moseneke, speaking at the memorial that was held on 3 February 2023 for slain Eswatini human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.

Speaking at the memorial, former Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa (SA), Dikgang Moseneke, sympathised with Mr Maseko’s wife, Tanele Maseko, and his children. He said that freedom fighters are often killed, although this does not get acknowledged as often. Before he started, he told a story about Mr Maseko’s time at the Constitutional Court (CC) in SA, he thanked Mr Maseko for bringing together, what he described, as incredible people in the African Region. He pointed out that after he had first met Mr Maseko at a graduation ceremony in 2005, the following year Mr Maseko applied for the position of law clerk and researcher at the CC. He, however, said that Justice Pius Langa was the one who interviewed Mr Maseko and thought he had the privilege of choosing a law clerk first, then he chose Mr Maseko.

However, Justice Moseneke said after Justice Langa fell ill, he then worked with Mr Maseko. He pointed out that the vision of the CC was to draw young people from all regions of the continent. He added that the project in its essence is a Pan African project that recognises the commonality and similarity of the challenges faced by the continent. He said that the CC had clerks from all over the region. He pointed out that Mr Maseko worked close to him and was one of the researchers when he wrote judgments at the CC.

Justice Moseneke said that Mr Maseko was quiet and the young female clerks at the CC would always taunt him, asking for hugs and asking when he was going to smile but Mr Maseko was tough as a nail. He pointed out that Mr Maseko at that time already had strong views about the world and Africa. He added that the role of legal practitioners is to hold those who disturb justice accountable. He said that he agreed with those that are calling for an independent body to do the investigation and not let the Eswatini government rest, because many more people will be killed. He added that a plan must be made to hold the government of Eswatini accountable.

Justice Mosenke said that Mr Maseko was right, that power cannot be centred on one individual. He added that he was in Lesotho helping them write the Constitution. He said that Lesotho has a constitutional monarchy and there is no reason why the people cannot govern in Eswatini.

The Chairperson of the General Council of the Bar in South Africa, Myron Dewrance in his tribute, spoke about Mr Maseko’s smile. He said even in difficult times or talking about times of torture he still smiled and laughed like he was being tickled. He added that Mr Maseko was a brave human defender to his clients. He pointed out that Mr Maseko appeared as a proud African man. He said that Mr Maseko did not enjoy the fruits of freedom as he should have in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

House of Constituents member of the Law Society of South Africa, Mfana Gwala, at the memorial that was held in honour of Thulani Maseko.

House of Constituents member of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Mfana Gwala, started his address by telling mourners that he did not know Mr Maseko personally, but some of his colleagues at the LSSA had worked with Mr Maseko.

Mr Gwala added that SA had incidents of this nature, which were a turning point in the struggle to freedom. Mr Gwala said he was born and bred in Soweto and started school in 1976 during the protest. He pointed out that the photograph of Hector Peterson gave the world a clear picture of what was happening in SA at that time. He added that the world saw that the government was killing its own people, and its children at that time. He added that Maseko has paid the ultimate price with his life.

He pointed out that citizens and legal practitioners in Eswatini are not yet free. He added that there have been many delegations to Eswatini, and many stories have come out of Eswatini.

Mr Gwala said that Mr Maseko could have chosen to be a legal practitioner who just practices, and ran his commercial practice making money, travelling the world and forgetting what was happening in his country. However, Mr Maseko was a legal practitioner with a conscience, who dedicated his life, not only to his practice, but also to the liberation of freedom for the Eswatini people and driven by love for his people. He added that Mr Maseko used the law as an instrument to advance the course of freedom.

Member of the South African Women Lawyers Association, Nomahlubi ‘Nthabiseng’ Khwinana paid tribute to Thulani Maseko at the memorial that was held at the University of Pretoria.

Member of the South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA), Nomahlubi Khwinana, delivered a tribute on behalf of her organisation. She said that SAWLA was saddened by the loss of a human rights activist who was making a difference in the legal fraternity and in the continent of Africa. She added that what Mr Maseko stood for resonated with what SAWLA stands for. She said that talks and advice Mr Maseko gave will not die but will rather assist SAWLA to carry the banner forward. She added that Africans have lost a legal practitioner who was willing to work pro bono to protect the rights of others. He was a principled and peaceful leader even to the extent that he lost his life, she said.

Legal practitioner and former Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Pansy Tlakula, while participating in the panel discussion that spoke about the work Mr Maseko did, said that the African continent has failed Mr Maseko. She shared how she travelled together with Mr Maseko and others to spread the gospel of human rights. She pointed out that Mr Maseko attended almost every session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to take the floor to bring attention to the commission about human rights and freedom of expression in Eswatini.

Ms Tlakula said that when she was the chair of the commission, they passed many resolutions and wrote many letters of appeal on the situation on human rights of not just Eswatini but other countries as well. She added that they did that because the African Union requested it. She said they obliged and mentioned the countries by name; however, she pointed out they were ridiculed most of the time. She explained that she said Africa failed Mr Maseko because nothing was done with all the reports that were produced.

Ms Tlakula added that now that Mr Maseko has passed on, the United Nations has issued a statement highlighting the situation of human rights in Eswatini. She said that after the murder of Mr Maseko, the talking will stop, and it is time for action.

Former Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, legal practitioner Pansy Tlakula and Director of Programs Africa at the Open Society Foundation, Siphosami Malunga shared the stories of their encounters with the late Thulani Maseko.

Director of Programs – Africa at the Open Society Foundation, Siphosami Malunga, shared a story of how Mr Maseko supported him during his trial in Zimbabwe. He said he received a call from another friend informing him that Mr Maseko had flown in to support him in court. He pointed out that when they arrived at court Mr Maseko left him outside and went inside the court to introduce himself to the magistrate and to let him know he was from Eswatini, and that he had come to observe the case. He said he was so touched by Mr Maseko’s support. He added that Mr Maseko had a professional approach in what he did.

Mr Malunga said Mr Maseko belonged to his generation, the children of people who fought for independence in Africa. The children that suffered from the absence of the parents who fought for independence, and children who suffered from the deaths of their parents. He added that now they are the generation that must suffer while fighting for independence from their own fathers. ‘It is our fathers that have now denied us the hope that they claim to have gone and gotten for us. They now stand in our way and our children are frustrated with us, because we are unable to deliver anything to them, our fathers are not willing to yield anything to us. We are now in this terrible situation,’ said Mr Malunga.

Mr Malunga noting that people say Mr Maseko died for dialogue, he asked what dialogue is one supposed to have with the people who kill you? He asked if there is any point in having a dialogue? He added that part of the problem is that people are not able to express themselves and their wishes. He pointed out that he never thought when Mr Maseko was worried about him, he needed to worry about Mr Maseko. ‘I never thought they would shoot Thulani point-blank in the head in front of his family. That is just a line you cannot cross. You cannot talk to such people,’ Mr Malunga added. He said that he knows how they are supposed to tiptoe around such subjects. He added that one should stop telling people how to react to acts of violence and acts of oppression. Mr Malunga said it is time to support the people of Eswatini like it was with counties such as SA and Zimbabwe. He pointed out that one cannot sweet talk it.

Thulani Maseko’s widow, Tanele Maseko speaking at the memorial that was held for her husband.

Widow of Mr Maseko, Tanele Maseko spoke about the day her husband was murdered. She said that while they were at home, they did not know that there were people watching them. She added that while they were inside their home she saw a reflection of a person outside the window, where Mr Maseko sat. She said she then proceeded to try and warn Mr Maseko that there was someone outside, but before she could even finish, the shooter had already pulled the trigger. She added that the shooter did not leave immediately, and her children rushed to their father and called out to him, but he just closed his eyes and took his last breath. She bravely rushed to the window to confront the killer as he did not leave immediately, as if he was waiting for confirmation that Mr Maseko was dead.

Ms Maseko said she and the boys will never forget that Saturday. She said what makes her happy is the fact that they knew it was coming and that they spoke about it, adding that Mr Maseko was clear that he conquered jail and clearly, they will come for him. She said her husband died like a warrior, he did not scream or suffer but just closed his eyes and went to the Lord. She thanked his colleagues for being there and making sure he received a befitting funeral. She had one thing to ask of his colleagues and human rights fighters, to stop being academic and to confront the monster.

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