Catholic Bishop, Peace Entity Condemn Murder of Human Rights Activist in Eswatini

Thulani Maseko. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Manzini and the Catholic humanitarian foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), have in separate statements condemned the murder of Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and reportedly an “influential opponent” in the Kingdom of Eswatini.

On Saturday, January 21 night, Mr. Maseko was shot dead at close range reportedly through the window of his house by yet-to-be identified gunmen, around 50 kilometers from Mbabane that serves as the executive capital of the country that was previously known as Swaziland. 

In a statement shared with ACI Africa Monday, January 23, Bishop José Luis Ponce de León says it is unfortunate that more killings have taken place in the kingdom since the murder of two police officers in October last year. 

Bishop Ponce de León adds in reference to Mr. Maseko, “His killing points to those who make a choice for violence, death, fear and exclusion as foundations of our common future.”

The Argentine-born member of the Consolata Missionaries (IMC) says the publicity given to Mr. Maseko’s murder by national and international statements “talks about the kind of person he was and his role in the present moment of our country.”


The slain activist, he says, “was concerned about the levels of violence being experienced and the impact it has on the lives of many.” 

Bishop Ponce de León adds that the chairperson of the Swaziland Multi-Stakeholders Forum (MSF) “believed that only an all-inclusive national dialogue could be a strong foundation for the future of our country.”

The Catholic Bishop who has been at the helm of Manzini Diocese since his installation in January 2014 cautions the Emaswati people against responding violently to the news of Mr. Maseko’s murder.

“Responding to his killing with violence will be going against what he stood for. It will also show that ‘what makes for peace’ is hidden from our eyes,” says the Local Ordinary of Eswatini’s only Catholic Diocese.

He appeals for prayers, saying, “In this critical moment of our country, I call on every person in the diocese of Manzini to daily pray for God’s gift of peace but also to make a concrete personal commitment to be a ‘peacemaker’ (Matthew 5:9), to make peace possible without making excuses that the time is not right or that it is not possible to resist the temptation of violence.”

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In his two-page statement dated January 23, Bishop Ponce de León advocates for action, saying, “Let this be done through our words and actions as both, words and actions, have the power to build and destroy. We should never underestimate them. May the Spirit of the Risen Lord give us the wisdom and the courage to find ways to break the cycle of violence.”

“Our hearts reach in prayer to Thulani Maseko’s family, friends, and all those who mourn his death. May the God of all consolation grant them peace and strength. May Jesus, the Good Shepherd, welcome him home,” the 61-year-old Catholic Bishop implores. 

Maseko is well known for being among those calling for electoral reforms in Eswatini.

In 2021, Maseko together with other representatives of civil societies in Eswatini rejected King Mswati III’s invitation to discuss the country’s political crisis at an annual national general meeting known as Sibaya. 

“Sibaya cannot, and is not an appropriate venue for an inclusive dialogue and has no significant value in shaping our destiny and as a people. We have long lost hope in such forums, and therefore WE SHALL NOT attend the meeting,” representatives of civil societies in Eswatini said in a statement signed by Maseko.  


The human rights lawyer had filed a lawsuit against King Mswati III for renaming Swaziland to Eswatini by decree, saying it was against the Constitution

In a separate message shared with ACI Africa Monday, January 23, DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen, says DHPI members were “shocked to learn of the assassination of prominent human rights lawyer and Chairperson of the Multi Stakeholders’ Forum in Eswatini.”

Mr. Maseko’s death “has silenced a crucial voice representing the opinion of many Eswatini citizens, and raises levels of fear and tension,” Mr. Viljoen says.

He adds, “We express our condolences to his wife, family and loved ones. We pray that his death will not be in vain, but will underline the urgency to find a negotiated solution to the situation of unrest.”

DHPI leadership is calling on Eswatini authorities to “leave no stone unturned in the search for the perpetrators.”

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“We continue to pray for peace, justice and reconciliation in Eswatini,” Mr. Viljoen says in the statement shared with ACI Africa January 23.

Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.