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CALS Quarterly Issue 20

- Lee-Anne Bruce

Read the latest issue of our quarterly newsletter and catch up on our recent highlights supporting activists and holding the powerful to account

Like many in the southern African social justice community, we have been deeply saddened by the killing of Swazi human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko. Thulani, and many other human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists, have long faced persecution for their efforts to promote a culture of respect for human rights in their home country. Thulani has faced arrest and detention for expressing his views, been charged with sedition, and had the media barred from attending proceedings against him which have the classic signs of a SLAPP suit. 

But Thulani refused to be silenced. He continued to represent his clients fearlessly, speak out against activist repression, and campaign for the full democratisation of his country. We know from our own research that activist killings are often precipitated by threats.  Unfortunately, calls for the eSwatini government to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms vital for democracy and public participation have gone unheeded. His death is a chilling reminder that human rights defenders are not free or safe to champion causes that seek to bring positive change in society.

We continue to monitor the situation of human rights defenders in South Africa and the SADC region and call for legislation that provides protection against activist victimisation. We were heartened to have over fifty other organisations and individuals join this campaign in February, signing an open letter to condemn Thulani’s killing, and calling for an independent inquiry into his death and more protections for activists in the region. 

Much of our work early in the year has been centred on the need for businesses as well as government to respect human rights. Our Business & Human Rights programme represented Amnesty International and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre as friends of the court in a groundbreaking cross-border class action certification application in a case brought by 100,000 women and children from Zambia against Anglo American. The programme also successfully intervened on behalf of two workers groups at the Competition Tribunal in a large merger between Heineken and Distell. Our Environmental Justice team has also launched litigation to review an environmental authorisation with huge impacts on climate change and water scarcity

Finally, we celebrate some milestones. We welcomed two new candidate legal practitioners and Bertha Justice Fellows in January. Jessie Ditshego and Anda Dungulu both return after completing internships at CALS last year. Anda was part of the first cohort of interns to join us through the Presidential Youth Employment Stimulus programme, funded by the South African government to facilitate work experience for young graduates. We look forward to growing the social justice sector through this programme again this year. We also welcome back to CALS former candidate legal practitioner, Mazi Choshane, as a junior attorney in the Environmental Justice and Civil & Political Justice programmes. 

Click the image below for more about these and our other recent updates.