Democracy is a matter of life and death — Global problems
LONDON, Feb. 10 (IPS) – Thulani Maseko knows speaking out in Eswatini is a risky business. A prominent human rights activist and lawyer, he previously served 14 months in prison for criticizing the country’s lack of judicial independence. Now he’s dead, shot in his home by unidentified assailants.
Among those that Maseko sued was the autocratic ruler of the country, King Mswati III. Mswati, in power since 1986, is Africa’s last remaining autocratic monarch. In 2018, in a sign of his unchecked power, he unilaterally changed the country’s name to Eswatini from Swaziland, unilaterally and without warning. Maseko planned to take Mswati to court to challenge the name change on constitutional grounds.
Maseko is the president of the Multi-Party Forum, a network that brings together civil society groups, political parties, businesses and others to promote a peaceful transition to multi-party democracy. He is also the lawyer for two members of parliament – Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube – arrested and detained in 2021 on terrorism charges for calling for constitutional democracy.
It remains unclear why Maseko was killed or whether those who committed the act acted on their own initiative or at the behest of others. But for many in the country’s pro-democracy movement, there was little doubt that shortly before Mswati’s murder was reported to said the state will ‘deal’ with those who call for democratic reform. Maseko is said to have received death threats.
Civil society is calling for a clear investigation into the murder of Maseko. Those conducting the investigation must be independent and ensure whoever is behind it is held accountable, no matter where the trail goes. But there seems to be little hope for that.
Blood on the king’s hand
If Maseko’s murder was a response to his human rights activism, it was an extreme form of revenge, but it’s not the only recent mysterious death. May 2021, law student Thabani Nkomonye disappear. When his body was discovered a few days later, it showed signs of torture. The police did little to investigate; Many believe they are responsible for the murder.
As news of Nkomonye’s murder spread, the students protest demand justice – and multi-party democracy, because only under democracy can state agencies be held accountable. This is what led to the months-long protests that swept Eswatini in 2021.
As the protests progressed, some began targeting businesses owned by the monarchy. When protesters started shooting, the state’s response was deadly. dozens were killed and about a thousand injured when security forces fired indiscriminately at protesters, apparently under a shoot-to-kill policy. command by Mswati. Even if Mswati doesn’t have Maseko’s blood on her hands, there are plenty of other murders he could be responsible for.
Part of a model?
In the face of continued repression, there is little hope that Maseko’s murder will be the last, and if anything scary it could mark an escalation. If the state is behind the attack, that indicates increased boldness towards its repression: it can target celebrities with the confident hope of going unpunished.
There are other signs that this may be the case: Penuel and Xolile Malinga of the People’s Democratic Unity Movement, the major political party, have twice had their own homes. Shoot at in the past few months. In December 2022, human rights lawyer Maxwell Nkambule survive an apparent assassination attempt when his car is shot in.
The state signaled that it was more interested in repression than in investigating the murder of Maseko as the two protested shot in a march for justice. The danger is growing lawless and further waves of state killings in response to any protest violence.
Need genuine dialogue
What the democracy movement is asking for is common elsewhere: the right for everyone to have a say in decisions that affect their lives. The people wanted to choose the prime minister themselves, instead of the king to do it. They want to be able to vote for political parties that are barred from voting. They wanted the king to obey the law, which required a constitution, not an absolute monarchy. And they want an economy that works for everyone: now Mswati is living a rock-star luxuries, financed by her family’s direct control over key assets. state, while most people live in extreme poverty.
An agreement to hold a national dialogue – signed with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and the South African Development Community (SADC) following the 2021 protests – has not been implemented. Even if it did, many doubt that such dialogue would be true.
South Africa has a special responsibility to promote democracy, as a country with many civil and political societies in exile in Eswatini. It’s time for South Africa and the SADC to stand up for Mswati, demand real accountability for the murder of Maseko, and push harder for real dialogue, constitutional reform and the path to democracy.
Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CITIZEN lens and co-author of Report on the situation of civil society.
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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service