Meet Mzwandile Masuku (@mzwandymas), a Swazi human rights lawyer and a 2023 Oslo Freedom Forum speaker. He’s the son of the late prominent opposition leader, Mario Masuku, who was arrested in 2014 and held for over a year on charges of terrorism, sedition, and subversion.
Masuku and his family suffered extreme persecution and reprisals from the regime of King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, for demanding that banned political parties be allowed as an essential component of democracy. His family’s nationality was repeatedly called into question and their home was often raided by the Army and Royal Swaziland Police Force.
“The first time I saw an assault rifle was on television in an American movie as a small child. I would then see one in real life shortly after at home, in the living room,” he said. “During these raids, we would all be confined to the living room under the barrel of some five assault rifles while the senior officers went through every corner of our home. They would be there till the next morning. At some point, these raids became so common that they no longer scared us.”
Eventually, the raids would cease and be replaced with 24-hour surveillance, their phones tapped.
“We all acquired human shadows,” he said.
Still, Masuku pushed on to make a difference, launching in 2009 with the late human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko a law firm dedicated to public interest litigation. Together, they provided pro-bono legal representation to ordinary Swazis facing rights violations and criminal prosecution by the state. Masuku is also a program manager of the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice, which promotes civic education on constitutional rights and democratic participation among rural populations.
Despite threats, intimidation, and attempted and completed assassinations of his team members, Masuku continues to champion the rights of detained individuals and advocate for nonviolent democratic reform.
Masuku and other changemakers will be sharing their stories on the Oslo Konserthus stage this June for the 15th Oslo Freedom Forum.