Magnitsky Awards
Winner’s Bio

Thulani Maseko


Award Winner 2023

Outstanding Human Rights Lawyer Award

Thulani Rudolf Maseko was a humble, well-known prolific human rights lawyer.

Thulani completed his studies at the University of Swaziland where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Law and LLB Degree. At the university, he was an active member of the student’s youth movement and elected as a member of the Students Representative Council SRC.

Thulani served his articles of clerkship under P.M. Shilubane and Associates, and on November 19th, 1999, he was called to the bar and admitted as an attorney of the High Court Of Swaziland.

Thulani, together with his colleagues, formed the Lawyers of Human Rights in early 2002. Later that year, he was also elected by Civil Society Organisations to also help co-ordinate the then National Constituent Assembly. A group made up of all areas of society including traditional leaders, politicalparties, and religious groups.

Thulani furthered his studies by enrolling with the Center for Human Rights, University of Pretoria in South Africa. Whilst at the Centre, Thulani did his internship at the Constitutional Court in South Africa, where he served and worked under the then Chief Justice Pius Langa.

In 2008, he established his own practice under the name T.R Maseko Attorneys which concentrated onhuman rights cases and constitutional law cases. The firm also dealt with numerous land disputes,farm eviction and illegal displacements of farm dwellers.

Thulani would attend labour and political rallies, where he would speak freely and openly. His freedom of expression subsequently landed him in prison in June 2009, where he was charged with Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938(SSA), he challenged the constitutionality of that law. He was not deterred, through litigation, he defended people’s rights to education, peacefulassembly and association, and civil liberties. He represented the Swaziland National Ex-MinersWorkers in their challenge to the government. The group contended that the government had notupheld the provisions of the 2005 constitution, which stipulates that Swazi children would receive free primary education within three years after the constitution went into effect, which was confirmed bythe High Court of Swaziland in 2009.

In 2014, Thulani and Bheki Makhubu, editor of the Nation Magazine, which Thulani was a monthly contributor, were convicted of contempt of court for writing articles, critical of the countries thenChief Justice. Amnesty International swiftly declared them Prisoners of Conscious. They were finallyacquitted in 2015.

On 16 September 2016, the High Court of Swaziland ruled in Thulani’s favour and declared parts of certain provisions of the SSA Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (1938) UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

On his 50th birthday on 19 April 2018 King Mswati 111, unilaterally changed the country’s name from the Kingdom of Swaziland to the Kingdom of Eswatini through Legal Notice No.80 of 2018.

Maseko challenged the name change in. The thrust of the challenge was that the declaration of the name change by the King was absent from a legislative process and public involvement is ultra vires the Constitution, and, therefore, of no effect. The application was opposed by the government through the office of the Attorney General chambers, and the matter was still pending before the High Court atthe time of Maseko’s death.

During the COVID pandemic June 29, 2021, there was a series of protests in Swaziland, which saw the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians by the country’s security agencies. This then led to the different CSOs and political parties creating a forum called the Multi-Stake Holder Forum, of whichThulani was elected Chairperson.

Thulani was a firm believer in dialogue, as he would usually plead that King Mswati must be persuaded that a democratic Swaziland is better not only for him but for all the people. He championed democratic reforms, calling for meaningful dialogue and interfacing with the SouthernAfrican Development Community (SADC)Organ, on Politics, Defense, and Security regarding the political crises in Swaziland.

Maseko’s advocacy of human Rights and democratization in Africa, particularly in Swaziland, earned him, the Open Society Initiative Certificate of Recognition in 2010, and the Vera Chirwa Award in 2011 from the Centre of Human Rights the University of Pretoria. In 2015, he received the honoraryshield from Africa Defend Defenders in Uganda. All these for his work in promoting an open society and defending rights for all Swazi citizens.

On the 21st Of January 2023 King Mswati 111 in his speech from the throne said on record that he had hired mercenaries to deal with voices of dissent. On the very same day, Thulani was shot dead athis parental home at Bhunya kaLuhleko, in front of his wife Tanele Zikhona Maseko, and his two young sons, Nksenhle Maseko (11 years old) and Nkosivile Maseko (7 years old).