News

"We Are Not Deterred” - A Prison Letter From Swazi Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Maseko On The One Year Anniversary Of His Detention

Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko pens a letter from prison on the one year anniversary of his ongoing detention.


Photo via @thulanirmaseko

 

***Update March 19th 2015***

Due to the publication of the below letter on March 17th, Thulani Maseko has been forcefully moved to solitary confinement for three weeks and denied visitors. Revealed earlier today when Thulani's lawyer, Sibusiso Nhlabatsi, attempted to make a routine visit, he reported the following:

"Kindly take notice that the Big Bend prison authorities have condemned Thulani Maseko to solitary confinement for a period of three weeks starting from today Thursday March 19, 2015. While the prison officials were reluctant with the information they cite Maseko’s continual writings whilst incarcerated as a violation of the prison code [Ed. note: no such prison code exists] and the reason for solitary confinement punishment. When I inquired as to the effects of the sentence; I was informed that he will forfeit some privileges i.e. visitations. This means that for three weeks his relatives and legal team won’t be able to see him. The prison authorities were reluctant with the information citing that it was all an internal process."

Remarking on the abrupt developments, Jeffrey Smith of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights urged those concerned to sign this petition and suggested taking to social media, using the hashtag #SwaziJustice, to help raise awareness of this brazen crackdown on Thulani’s basic human rights.

 

Introduction by Jeffrey Smith:

My friend Thulani Maseko is one of the most courageous human beings I have ever met. He is an unflinching iconoclast in Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy and the continent’s most quietly repressive nation. Thulani has fearlessly campaigned to highlight the inherent deficiencies of the Tinkhundla system of governance, which vests undue power in the hands of one man: King Mswati III, who assumed power at the age of 18, following the death of his father, and previous king, Sobhuza II.

A year ago today, Thulani and Bheki Makhubu, a veteran magazine editor, were each sentenced to two years in prison for writing, and then publishing, articles that were critical of Swaziland’s undeniably rotten judicial system. Thulani has remained steadfast and brave, despite the clear, and still ongoing, miscarriages of justice against him, which include a farcical sedition trial slated for this summer.

During a break in an appeal hearing last November, Thulani and I made eye contact and he motioned for me to join him near a cordoned off area of the courtroom, where he was guarded by several stern-faced officers at all times. At his feet lay the iron leg shackles used to escort him to and from the court, which is perched atop a picturesque hillside in Swaziland’s capital, Mbabane. Thulani put his arm around my shoulder, saying: “Jeff, come here and stand with me. I mustn’t forget how to smile.”

Thulani surely smiles, and is given strength, when he knows the world is watching, when his lawyer and his family members, when they are permitted to visit, inform him that the struggle to uplift ordinary Swazis -- those whose basic human rights continue to be crushed with impunity -- has not been in vain or in isolation. Let’s keep our friend Thulani smiling. And let his profound words below, written from a dark prison cell in a remote corner of Swaziland, inspire you to action. Join us in the campaign for SwaziJustice today.

Jeffrey Smith

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

A Letter Of Appreciation To The World’s Human Family For The Solidarity With Our Just Cause

-By Thulani Rudolf Maseko

The biblical Joseph is recorded in scripture as having said that, “You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good.” And John C. Maxwell tells us “Joseph waited 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.” The bible has many men who spent time in prison on the orders of the rulers and kings of those times.

Surely, yes surely, our captors, the architects and proponents of Swaziland’s oppressive Tinkhundla regime, harbor intentions to hurt us so that we submit to their evil desires. And there is some good that has been the result of our persecution. Tinkhundla denialists, cynics, and prophets of doom do not accept it, but there can be no question that our conviction and prison sentence sharply drew the world’s focus to Swaziland in a manner unprecedented in recent times. In the light of the above scripture, this is the good God had intended, for he is the God of freedom, justice and equality. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and daughter Mpho Tutu remind us that, “God has a profound reverence for our freedom. I often say that God would rather we go freely to hell than we be compelled to enter heaven.” Tinkhundla, has for so long, denied us our God-given fundamental human rights and basic freedoms and civil liberties. We seek to retain these, our rights and freedoms, no matter what price we have to pay. We shall never surrender.

There is yet another prisoner who spent 27 years in jail for his beliefs. This is the prisoner, in respect of whom, President Barack Obama said: “To the people of South Africa, people of every race and walk of life, the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.” Speaking for all of us, President Obama continued: “His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life and your freedom. Your democracy is his cherished legacy.” How beautiful these words! Although on different conditions and circumstances, Mandela’s ideals are our ideals too.

Thulani Maseko and his son on second day of appeal hearing in Swaziland's Supreme Court (Photo: Jeffrey Smith)

In the context of those of us who are doing time in jail for what we believe in, the same ideals that drove Mandela, what better person is there to inspire, us if not Madiba himself? We know that those who have thrown us in jail are determined to do so in the future, and that they have acted out of prejudice. They have intended to hurt us, to break our spirit, our moral strength and crash our resilience so that we succumb to their evil desires. But we derive strength knowing that the world has stood, and continues to stand, with us and by us.

Prison is indeed meant to crush us because the conditions are horrendous. As Mandela said in 1967, we say so in 2015, from the king’s prison in Swaziland that for instance, “no pillows are provided and we forced to use other articles…as pillows.” Not only are we denied proper bedding such as pillows and bedding sheets, we do not “have the right to sleep in pyjamas.” One is forced to either to “sleep naked with only blankets as a cover,” or sleep in one’s own prison garments, turned inside out, to keep them neat and clean.

Over and above this, we must put up with sleeping on the floor and use tiny canvas mats. To spice it all, prison life is routine, including the meals of cabbage, beans and a very small piece of chicken. Just as much as the barbaric and oppressive Tinkhundla regime seeks to deny and deprive us of our value as full human beings, it is absolutely correct that “prison and the authorities conspire to rob each man of his dignity. Prison not only robs you of your freedom, it attempts to take away your identity.”

So, while we fight the many injustices and indignities of Tinkhundla outside these prison walls, we have almost similar battles to fight in prison. And the early campaigners of human rights, freedom and democracy on whose footsteps we follow were right that prison, for all intents and purposes, is a minor image of the bigger system outside.

In spite of the prison hardships, we are not deterred. We are not discouraged. We are not fazed. We are not shaken. We are not intimidated. Yes, we are not broken.

While President Obama spoke well for all of us in thanking South Africa for sharing Madiba with the world, we are also grateful for the life of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Here is a leader who said: “Nobody with any sense likes to go to jail. But if he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity.” And he goes on to say,” and even when he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so priceless, some things so externally true that they are worth dying for.” This is the man who tells us that, “and I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

Please allow us to say that we are in prison because we are very fit to live. We are not ashamed, for there is nothing to be ashamed of for standing up for what is right, what is high, what is noble. There is nothing to be ashamed of for standing up for good against an evil system. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of for standing up for something great. We are not broken because these, our teachers, these our mentors, tell us that if some ideals are worth living for, then they are equally worth sacrificing for, and if need be, are worth dying for.

Jeffrey Smith & Thulani Maseko at Maseko's appeal hearing in Swaziland's Supreme Court on Novemer 4, 2014

As we draw to a conclusion, it pains us to hear the leaders of our country raising a hullaballoo about “enemies of the country,” people who “tarnish the image of the country,” and the “jealous people.” We want to say that the true and real enemies of Swaziland, and its people, are those who are opposed to democracy. The true enemies of Swaziland, and its people, are those who undermine the rule of law. The true jealous people are those who continue to trample, suppress and abuse the fundamental human rights and basic freedoms and civil liberties of the rank and file of our people. Those who say we attack and condemn the country are completely missing the point, are misguided and misdirected.

Swaziland, our country, is a tiny and beautiful land. Its people are humble, equally beautiful and equally hospitable. It is the Tinkhundla system that has an image problem. And this distinction is important. If Tinkhundla, as a system of government has any image at all, it has an image of oppression, and it only has itself to blame.

You see, Tinkhundla must realize that, at best, it is like a Christian who refuses to accept that all have sinned and are in need of the grace of God. At worst, Tinkhundla, by its very nature and character, is like a man, or a drunken man, who looks at himself in the mirror and sees how horrible he looks and then says, “O, this is not me.” Such a man begins to point a figure and accuses his children and his neighbours for his own self-created bad image. Accordingly, for as long as Tinkhundla and the leadership of our country remain recalcitrant and intransigent about change, we have a right, responsibly and obligation to name and shame it until it succumbs to the demand for democratization.

In closing, the Tinkhundla leaders, its supporters, its fans and proponents, may call us whatever names they choose. They shall never conquer our spirits. They may keep us in jail as much as they please, but they can never arrest our ideas. So, in the final analysis, Madiba who inspires us right here in prison, is right when he says: “It is only my flesh and bones that are shut up behind these tight walls. Otherwise, I remain cosmopolitan in my outlook; in my thoughts I am as free as a felon.”

Since that fateful day on March 17, 2014 the failure of leadership in our country has been proved beyond any shadow of doubt that Tinkhundla has dismally failed. We need to unite around a discussion table to negotiate the birth of a new democratic society, a new and democratic Swaziland. In the words of the great Mahatma Gandhi, we seriously believe in the righteousness of our cause.

We are short of sweet and beautiful words to express thanks to the thousands around the world who have supported us. We cannot be more grateful. The great mentor speaks for us when he says, “We shall never forget how millions around the world joined us in solidarity to fight the injustice of our oppression while we were incarcerated.” Indeed, we draw strength and sustenance from the knowledge that we are part of a greater humanity.

Writing from a narrow prison cell to the church of the Philippians, the charismatic Paul said: “I think of you…because of the way in which you have helped me…you are always in my heart.” From prison, we adopt Paul’s words as ours and say: Thank you, thank you, and thank you. God bless you.

Yours sincerely,

Thulani Rudolf Maseko

Prisoner 579/2014

His Majesty’s Big Bend Prison

Lubombo, Swaziland

Jeffrey Smith is an Africa specialist at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter at @Smith_RFKennedy.

Photos

This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

Keep reading... Show less
Film
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!

popular

Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.