Mr Thulani Maseko, 2005 alumnus of the Master’s Degree Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from Swaziland, is serving a two-year prison sentence in his country for criticising the government. Those who have met him in prison speak eloquently of the intelligent, compassionate and tireless human rights activist devoid of bitterness, hatred or anger. Surrounded by prison walls, he has turned his care and commitment to the welfare of his fellow prisoners, relating to everyone – including his gaolers – with generosity and equanimity.
In the spirit of togetherness, alumni of the Master’s Degree programme channelled contributions to his family through the Centre for Human Rights. Thulani’s wife Tanele received the gift on his behalf and, over lunch with staff of the Centre, raised our hopes and reassured us of his unshakeable commitment to defend – on the ground – the principles which we often only evoke from the safety of the classroom.
This 2011 laureate of the Vera Chirwa Award has distinguished himself inexorably as the quintessential African human rights lawyer. The Centre for Human Rights salutes his courageous and untiring struggle for human rights and democracy in Swaziland, and continues to call for his release and acquittal on all charges.
Thulani’s dire situation stands in stark contrast to his positive attitude, evoking memories of Nelson Mandela, whose sketch of the lighthouse on Robben Island hangs in our offices, with the following words:
Today when I look at Robben Island I see it as a celebration of the struggle and a symbol of the finest qualities of the human spirit, rather than as a monument to the brutal tyranny and oppression of apartheid.
Robben Island is a place where courage endured in the face of endless hardship, a place where people kept on believing when it seemed their dreams were hopeless and a place where wisdom and determination overcame fear and human frailty.
It is true that Robben Island was once a place of darkness, but out of that darkness has come a wonderful brightness, a light so powerful that it could not be hidden behind prison walls, held back by prison bars or hemmed in by the surrounding sea.
In these sketches entitled: My Robben Island, I have attempted to colour the island sketches in ways that reflect the positive light in which I view it. This is what I would like to share with people around the world and, hopefully, also project the idea that even the most fantastic dreams can be achieved if we are prepared to endure life’s challenges.