Politics, Africa

Rights group blame Eswatini's king for opposition leader's murder

Human rights lawyer Thulani Rudolf Maseko was shot dead at home in front of his family on Jan. 21, according to local media

Phathizwe Zulu  | 24.01.2023 - Update : 24.01.2023
Rights group blame Eswatini's king for opposition leader's murder King of Swaziland Mswati III ( Alaattin Dogru - Anadolu Agency )

MANZINI, Eswatini

The murder of Thulani Rudolf Maseko, a prominent human rights lawyer and opposition politician, has sparked a wave of anger against Eswatini’s King Mswati III.

Maseko was shot dead around midnight on Saturday by unknown gunmen at his home in Luhleko, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital Mbabane.

According to local media reports, the rights defender was shot through a window as he sat with his family, with three bullets to the chest and one to the head.

Maseko was also the co-chairperson of the Swaziland Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a platform of political parties and various civil society organizations leading the charge for democratic reforms in the country.

Rights groups in Eswatini and the larger region have vehemently condemned the fatal attack, which they believe was carried out at the behest of the country’s ruler.

Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) and the African Regional Organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) called for immediate action against King Mswati, accusing him of ordering the murders of Maseko and other rights activists.

Thulani’s killing “is the clearest indication of the lengths to which King Mswati will go to cling on to power,” said Mfanafuthi Tsela, acting spokesperson of the SSN, a civic organization of political activists exiled in South Africa.

“However, never in the history of mankind has a determined people been defeated, no matter how mighty the enemy they are fighting. King Mswati will not defeat the people of Swaziland (former name of Eswatini), no matter how many he kills or exiles. He will fall.”

A political party in Botswana denounced Eswatini’s “evil monarchy” and urged the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) regional bloc to suspend the tiny landlocked nation’s membership.

“The Botswana government must sponsor a move to get Swaziland suspended from SADC until accountability on the act is established, along with a comprehensive plan to emancipate the people of Swaziland from the diabolic monarchy,” the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) said in a statement.

Swazi Lives Matter Global Solidarity Movement (SLMGSM) went a step further in demanding the deployment of SADC peacekeeping forces in Eswatini, citing “the rising insecurity caused by the regime.”

The group criticized the SADC for its failure to protect the people of Eswatini “subjected to terror and aggressive means, legal and illegal, by King Mswati III, his government, and his mercenaries.”

Eswatini’s Mass Democratic Movement and other rights groups repeatedly reported evidence to the SADC, according to an SLMGSM statement.

“However, the SADC continues to undermine the dire situation faced by the people of Swaziland, who are working for a peaceful resolution of the political transformation in the country,” it added.

Mercenaries and threats

Maseko’s assassination came amid a furor in Eswatini over an SSN report that accused King Mswati of hiring mercenaries to quash rising dissent in the country.

The report released last week alleged that Russia was training the mercenaries, mostly white Afrikaners from neighboring South Africa, part of the king’s “death squad.”

The allegations were denied by Alexander Surikov, Moscow’s ambassador to Eswatini, who said Russia was “only providing scholarships for higher military education.”

Alpheous Nxumalo, a spokesperson for the Eswatini government, also rejected the report, asserting that “no hitmen have been hired.”

In a speech just hours before Saturday’s fatal attack on Maseko, King Mswati threatened activists challenging his rule in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

“These people should not complain about mercenaries who kill them or blame King Mswati when the government retaliates because of their actions. They should not forget who started the violence,” he said.

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