FEBRUARY 12, 2023
January 21, 2023 will remain the worst that shook the whole world when news of the gruesome murder of high profile lawyer, Thulani Maseko. Last weekend saw dozens of Swazis descending at the Braamfontein where they held a memorial service of the slain human rights lawyer.
The memorial service was going to be incomplete if Thulani’s wife Tanele Maseko was going to miss the special in honour of her husband that was hosted by people who spent a number of years with him while they were still university students. Below is the speech that was read by Bongani Maseko who together with other students embarked on a 12 days’ hunger strike after the university administration tried to prevent the newly elected Student Representative Council (SRC) from becoming student leaders.
Mourning the passing on of his lifetime friend and great intellectual giant at Highgate Cemetery in London, Frederick Engels had this to say, “An immeasurable loss has been sustained both by the militant proletariat of Europe and America, and but historical science, in the death of this man. The gap that has been left by the departure of this mighty spirit will soon enough make itself felt”.
On the night of the 21st of January 2023, for a minute our world froze in disbelief at the shocking news of the brute al, cowardly and unbelievable murder of a humble friend and comrade, Thulani Rudolf Maseko.
KaLuhleko in Bhunya is a place well known to me, for part of my family has to date lived there. It is a place of both mysteries and legends, where various struggles over land dispossessions and the unbearable pain of poverty defines part of the landscape. Little did I know that this place would be part of my lifetime journey and bond in struggle.
It was in 1991 when I first met a modest, intellectually sharp and free-spirited comrade, friend and lifetime freedom fighter, Thulani Maseko. It was the late great comrade, MJ Dlamini, who first introduced me to this wonderful soul as we began working closer in the newly formed SWAYOCO, the Swaziland Youth Congress led by the legend of all times, Benedict “Didiza” Tsabedze. This was to begin a life filled with tense moments of struggles, shared pains and perseverance, yet never ending jokes, humour and outbursts of warm heartily laughter at the same time.
The highlight of this comradeship and shared trenches was our election to the SRC of 1993/94 in which the University Administration put up a determined fight to oppose the elections of “trouble-makers and openly-declared comrades”, in a university and country that had and continues to declare comrades and progressives as sworn enemies of the state and the king.
From court battles to street fights, closure of the university, to mass meetings at Trade Fair, Bosco Skills Centre, the battles raged on. That is where the bonds of common cause and true comradeship was sealed. This group comprised of; Thulani Maseko, Vincent Dlamini, Bongani Masuku, Linus Mavimbela, Comfort Mtsetfwa, Bonginkosi Commander Ntshangase, Velaphi Dlamini, Musa MJ Dlamini and a few others became steeled in the iron fist leadership of the then Vice Chancellor, Professor Lydia Makhubu. The seeds planted during that time were to become the seeds that later blossomed into a generation that was to redefine the course of history in many ways.
Amongst others, the most interesting character was Thulani Maseko, a staunch believer in Martin Luther King and the non-violent methods of struggle, but deeply rooted in fierce and brave wisdom of inspiration and non-surrender.
Amongst the group of comrades that gathered at the Science Lecture Theatre 11 was Thulani Maseko. This is the group that founded the Swaziland Association of Students (SAS) following the banning of SNUS (Swaziland National Union of Students). The events after, including the refusal by then Minister of Education, Prince Khuzulwandle Dlamini to register SAS did not deter these young, energetic and determined students.
Our paths were to cross again with Cde Thulani Maseko at a later stage in life as he became elected as the Secretary General of PUDEMO at a National Congress held in Manzini. During that time, together with other progressive lawyers, they were hard at work building the Lawyers for Human Rights, which he was at the helm of when he met his death.
He went on to become a fierce champion of human rights, representing and defending victims of Mswati’s vicious tinkhundla system and eventually earning himself time in jail. This was where his wife, Cde Tanele Maseko demonstrated her courage and bravery, from one forum to another all over the world, she was the face of justice for her husband and she well-articulated the case of Thulani’s incarceration and persecution.
I recall in Geneva in an intense case of Swaziland at the Committee on the Application of International Standards (Popularly known as CAS), where she ripped apart the lies of the Swazi government in full glee of the whole world. This made our work as members of the ILO Committee easier in putting Swaziland where it belongs, a higher sanction for its constant appearance and violation of ILO Conventions. For that, we salute you Make Maseko, you stood by your husband and comrade unwaveringly during difficult times. I can recall Pretoria, Johannesburg and various other places where the international solidarity movement organised to rally the world around the release of Thulani Maseko.
Thulani also represented former PUDEMO President Mario Masuku in many of his trials and tribulations. The former President was one of the worst victims of the Swazi regime, but he knew in Thulani and other comrades like him, he had a solid line of defence. This was after the sterling work done by Dominic Mngomezulu, popularly known as Lefty in defending and representing so many comrades without charging them. Thulani continued those fine and selfless traditions relentlessly. Few know that Thulani also fought hard battles for the landless masses in Atibuye eMasisweni Landless Peoples Movement, almost every corner of Swaziland that had land issues, particularly being dispossessed by the royal family and the monarchy, he was always there.
It is now a convention that, to lament a life lived to the fullest is to waste the good work he did. We are celebrating the great life of Thulani Maseko and don’t doubt that he leaves behind him a powerful legacy of unrelenting struggle against oppression and injustice. It is no small thing that the whole world is in movements, motion to express anger and sorrow, yet celebrate the greatness of a humble life lived to its fullest.
On receiving the sad news of the passing away of my dear comrade, friend and leader, I was to recall how he would have likely responded to our tears.
Tribute by PUDEMO External Region Chairperson Cde Bongani Masuku at the Memorial Service of his friend, brother and Cde Thulani Rudolf Maseko, hosted by PUDEMO External Region in collaboration with the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) on the 4th of February 2023 in the Johannesburg Metro Centre, South Africa.