Farewell Thulani Maseko, the People’s Lawyer: Sharp Bro, Best!

TSHIAMO RANTAO

ON 21 October 2019 at 2258hrs Thulani Maseko sent me the following WhatsApp message: “My Boet, I hope you are well. I am in your country, Botswana, in Gaborone until Friday to oversee your elections! If you have time at some point to catch up.”

At the time he sent the message, I had already retired to bed, and so I only saw it and responded the following morning, asking him where he was based in Gaborone. He responded: “At an Airbnb called City Mews by Independent Street Dear Cde”. Unfortunately, I could not meet with him since I was in and out of town with my family but I assured him that I would “touch base, should I find an opening.” His response sent at 0750hrs in the morning of 22 October 2019 was: “Sharp, bro. Best.”.

Thulani was in Gaborone as an election observer for Botswana’s national elections held on 24 October 2019. We could not meet for the reason I gave above, but that was the last communication I ever had with him when he was still alive.

The next two years saw the world battle with the frequently closed borders and less international travel as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions. I cannot remember when, but I called Thulani sometime in 2020. He missed my call, tried calling back but I also, unfortunately, missed his return call.

So, the last statement I got from him was: “Sharp, bro. Best.”.

I cannot recall when I met Thulani for the first time, but it must have been around 2013/14 and certainly at one of the human rights workshops organised for human rights defenders and/or lawyers.

Most of these would be in Johannesburg or Pretoria, South Africa, and many of them organized by Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) in partnership with like-minded human rights organizations. From 2019 to 2021 he worked for SALC and our conversations and meetings became more frequent.

Thulani was an epitome of humility. Although we would meet on average once a year at such seminars, I considered him one of my few “international” friends. He was a joy to be around due to his sense of humour despite what he and his people had to endure in his home country, Eswatini. I will always remember his sense of humour in the midst of adversity. He used to crack jokes about his stint in prison in Eswatini.

Thulani Rudolf Maseko was born on 1 March 1970. He was a human rights defender and lawyer who was imprisoned in Eswatini from 2014 to 2015 and declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

He was firstly arrested on 17 March 2014 and, the following day, a journalist, Bheki Makhubu, was also arrested, and they were charged with the same offence of contempt of court. This is after they questioned the integrity, independence and impartiality of the judicial system in Eswatini. They were subsequently released by an order of the Supreme Court of Eswatini, the State having conceded that it had no case against them.

I wish to quote verbatim a passage from a statement published by SALC following the untimely demise of Thulani:

“Thulani led the charge against human rights violations and infringements in Eswatini, from land evictions to minority rights. He unwaveringly represented activists who fought against State repression. …He was the principal applicant and lawyer involved in setting aside by the High Court clauses of the infamous Suppression of Terrorism Act and Sedition and Subversive Activities Act in 2016…Thulani travelled the world, raising awareness of the situation in Eswatini. He was a beacon of hope for African lawyers battling State repression.”

This statement, in my view, sums up Thulani’s impact as well as his mission in life. Clearly, his vision and mission were not limited to the four corners of Eswatini but the whole world.

I am devastated by the brutal assassination of Thulani. In him, the world has lost an amazing, exemplary human rights defender and lawyer whom I was always looking forward to meeting on an annual basis for several years now. I pray that SADC can institute an independent judicial investigation on his killing. Thulani, sharp bro. Best.  #JusticeForThulani

  • Tshiamo Rantao works for Rantao Attorneys, in Gaborone, Botswana.
  • https://twitter.com/Follow_SALC/status/1617098228788232192?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/CHR_HumanRights/status/1617425402435100673?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/AmnestySARO/status/1617408096871096320?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/ThuliMadonsela3/status/1617098499824263168?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/MichaelBishop12/status/1617409928494481408?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/UNHumanRights/status/1617469292265771008?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/Smith_JeffreyT/status/1617895894501961728?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/SAHRDNetwork/status/1617926828613840897?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/HEBobiwine/status/1617389607364055043?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
  • https://twitter.com/sherwiebp/status/1617955570773856266?s=20&t=CJuT8xBCPHmYXV5QCgwb2g
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