Southern Africa’s regional bloc SADC on Tuesday acknowledged that political tensions were rising in the tiny kingdom of Eswatini, where a top rights lawyer and activist has been murdered.
Thulani Maseko Maseko was shot dead on January 21, sparking alarm over political violence in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
His murder came hours after King Mswati III had warned activists who defied him not to “shed tears” about “mercenaries killing them.” There have been no arrests as yet.
“There have been ongoing and sporadic acts of violence in the Kingdom of Eswatini that point to an escalation of the tensions,” said Namibian President Hage Geingob, who chairs the politics, defence and security committee of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
He said the incidents had happened “regrettably… whilst the region is focused on assisting our sister country to find and implement peaceful solutions” to the challenges it faced.
Geingob was speaking at an extraordinary meeting of the panel in Windhoek, which was also attended by presidents Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia.
Maseko, 52, had relentlessly fought state repression in the kingdom, where opposition parties are banned.
He led a coalition of political and civic rights and religious groups, created in November 2021 to foster dialogue with the king and seek a way out of the crisis.
He was shot through the window of his home in Luhleko, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Mbabane.
Eswatini, a country of 1.2 million people previously known as Swaziland, has long cracked down on dissent, with political parties banned since 1973.
At least 37 people were killed during weeks of anti-monarchy protests in June 2021.
SADC is a grouping of 16 countries in the southern African region.
The Windkoek meeting focussed on conflicts in the region with a special focus on Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Eswatini.