Thulani Maseko assassination a catalyst for change

Thulani Maseko assassination a catalyst for change

By Vuyisile Hlatshwayo

The brutal assassination of renowned human rights lawyer and political activist, Thulani Rudolf Maseko, has been called a political tipping point and a catalyst for long-awaited change in eSwatini, which is Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

His memorial and funeral services provided a platform for speakers to call for justice but also for democratic change. The outpouring of grief that followed 52-year old Maseko’s murder, which was carried out in front of his wife and two sons at his home on 21 January, was echoed at the memorial service 

In a politically charged atmosphere resembling a political rally, punctuated with Methodist hymns and political songs, the devastated speakers and mourners were in unison that his tragic death marked a tipping point in eSwatini politics. The angry and defiant political activists and civic actors vowed to pick up his fallen spear to continue his struggle for justice and democracy. Representatives of foreign missions, international and regional organisations pledged solidarity.      

A Maseko family representative, Phuza Maseko, kicked off the memorial service by quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This was a thinly veiled challenge to the 1.2 million nation to ensure that Thulani Maseko did not die in vain. As the Masekos were in the dark about why he was killed in a callous and brutal manner, he stated that “it cut deep and was annoying to say the least.” 

Maseko wondered why Thulani met brutal death when he was preaching peace, justice and reconciliation. He said a peace-loving person like him did not deserve to die like that. He blamed it on his demand for peaceful negotiations in a nation at war with itself. He called his unknown assassins cowards who could not face him in court and let the rule of law take its course. The Masekos publicly denounced any form of violence in eSwatini. He assured over 3000 mourners about the family commitment to a dialogue despite Thulani’s loss of life in a brutal manner. 

Tanele Tfwala-Maseko paid homage to her love, protector and comrade. Instead of asking a friend to read her tribute, she broke that tradition. Displaying bravery and composure, she burst into the Methodist Hymn “Carry me always with your hands full of love. I submit myself to You, Lord Jesus take charge” before delivering her moving tribute. She moved the mourners when she spoke about cleaning the blood spilled and brain spattered all over on the couch and television on the Saturday night. 

“Thulani was my comrade, my chairperson, my leader and my prisoner. When he got arrested, he told me to memorise his prison number 353, 438 and 579/2014 in case something happened to him in jail. As I bid you farewell my prisoner, I thank you that you stood even though it was tough. Thank you comrade that you said on that day that your killer will find you here at home and you won’t go to exile. I thank you that you defeated the jail and you were not scared of it. That’s why your killers chose to kill you because they know that you were always a step ahead of them,” she said.

Tfwala-Maseko drove her message home that the brutal murder of her ‘comrade’ should be a turning point in the struggle for freedom and democracy in the kingdom. She stated it loud and clear that his spilled blood and spattered brain should liberate the people of eSwatini. 

“Please stop your diplomacy, you must fight there. You need to fight, I beg you Khubonye WeNdlovu because I know that you are too quick to forgive. Your killer who spilled your blood should not find peace. Let your blood shed on Saturday night and your spattered brain liberate the people of eSwatini,” she made a plea. 

Mphandlana Shongwe, a People’s United Democratic Movement (PUEMO) stalwart, shared the same sentiments. He recited the Invictus poem by William Ernest Henley emphasising that: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” He continued to quote the Winston Churchill’s post-war version: “We are still masters of our fate. We are still captains of our souls.” Making his appeal to emaSwati to advance Thulani’s cause, he said: “We are masters of our freedom and we are the captains of our lives.” He expressed his wish that Thulani’s death sparked a revolution that will usher a new eSwatini.

Thulani’s maternal uncle, Pat Vilakati, who used to discuss politics with him, revealed that Thulani had strong political views about the national dialogue and the institution of the monarch. He said he supported the institution but he was against the incumbent head of the institution. Hence, he found it difficult to convince him that the king is not prepared to dialogue with emaSwati. Thulani would always argue that they would try every means possible to ensure the king agree to an all-inclusive dialogue.

Vilakati criticised the king for the unyielding intransigence to the calls for change. He warned the king against acting against the will of God who granted the quest of the Israelites for regime change. He said God neither labelled them ‘demonic elements’ nor ‘dagga smokers’ but God listened and gave them what they wanted – a new political regime under a king. 

“We’re not here because of the hitman that killed Thulani but we’re here because of a king that does not want to listen and give people what they want. I am making an appeal at this platform. Mswati must listen and give emaSwati what they want,” he appealed.

Vilakati also decried the unholy alliance existing between the clergy and monarch thriving on lies. He warned the priests to stop lying that the political winds of change sweeping across the country will go away. He turned the spotlight on the Army Chief Mashikilisana Fakudze, who is also a man of the cloth. Shortly after his appointment at the height of the violence, he assured the king that he can now sleep peacefully. 

He warned those in leadership busy fueling the political strife by issuing orders to soldiers and police to kill citizens. He said the solution to the political violence lies in listening to the people’s call for an inclusive-dialogue and political change. He cautioned that if Mswati continues to refuse to listen to the citizens, they will rebel against him.

Speaking truth to power, Methodist Church Rev. Goodwill Masuku used the Scripture on the deliverance of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt to strengthen the Swazi people’s resolve to free themselves from oppression. He preached that the just God, who hates injustice, has seen their affliction and oppression. He continued to say God has heard their cry since June 2021 about the loss of lives, disappearance of people, incarceration of people and forcing others to go to exile. He said whosoever signed the orders for the killers is a dead man walking.

“The cry of the Swazi people has been falling on deaf ears. Now the good news is that God has come down to free us from the grip of our Egypt-like slavery. I have come to say to the Masekos and emaSwati God who put us here in KaNgwane endowed with all resources for all us. Everyone should be enjoying the benefits of all the reources of our land. God is saying that he has put among us emaSwati like Thulani and God has come down to pry us out of this as a just God who cares and hates injustice,” he said.

What’s next? The Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF) deputy chairperson, Sisanda Mavimbela, said the coalition of parties and civil society will forge ahead and implement the five-point blueprint crafted by its late chairperson Thulani Maseko. One of the key points is to have an all-inclusive dialogue to bring to an end violence in the country. 

“As MSF, we are saying to emaSwati the spirit of Maseko must live long. The country has lost a lawyer, who fought for a democratic governance dispensation, which could transform the lives of the poor…” she said. 

About the trajectory of the eSwatini democratization process, PUDEMO president, Mlungisi Makhanya said Thulani Maseko’s brutal murder will give it impetus. This will strengthen the resolve of political activists to overthrow the Tinkhundla system.

“We will never be cowed into silence neither succumb to the desires of the killing regime until the last drop of our blood. We’ll take up the fallen spear of comrade Thulani and advance the aspirations of the entire people of Swaziland. We remain undeterred to advance the cause for a country free and democratic. Your death is not in vain. Your spear shall be picked to advance the revolution and defend and unite the people in our fatherland,” Makhanya said.     

Makhanya said they want to take Thulani’s moment to mobilise progressive forces like the United Nations to impose smart sanctions against the country’s leadership. 

In his 2014 letter to Barack Obama ahead of the summit of African leaders at the White House, the slain human rights defender appealed to the US government and its global partners to pressurise Mswati to agree to introduce democratic reforms but in vain. Nothing has been done since then which goes to show that emaSwati are just on their own. 

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