The Landscape: Creepy ecstasy over hangman’s job

The euphoric response that bombarded our newsroom in the wake of recent reports of a shortage of hangmen in Zimbabwe shocked me.

I had no idea there could be that many people out there so desperate for jobs they are keen, given an opportunity, to take killing as an occupation — for as long as it brings food on the table.

“Please, I am eager to get that job,” a job seeker literally begged through an SMS to my phone.

“I am a retired soldier who has seen so much in my profession and killing a few more people would be nothing.”

Another “job seeker” said: “Vacant hangman’s post! Please assist me. I need to know the application procedure. I have worked in the Prison Service before and I know I have a hard heart. I can hang!”

I am receiving an average five such SMSs on my phone every day while my colleagues receive almost the same through our other feedback channels. Many more are making direct calls, asking for information on how they could land the hangman’s job.

So, the fact that the government of Zimbabwe, through the Justice ministry, flighted advertisements for the job several years back, and that up to now, the country has no executioner, can only mean one of the following: Interested “job seekers” missed the advertisement; that their applications did not reach their destination; that they did not meet the qualification requirements or that they failed the interviews.

It still beats me how so many people could be clamouring for this kind of job. Employed to hang people! I feel no such job should be in existence.

Zimbabwe’s last hangman — some say he was of Malawian origin while others say he was a former Zambian police officer — retired after carrying out his last job on Zimbabwe’s “legendary” Edmore Masendeke and Stephen Chidhumo.

At the time of his departure, the executioner was said to be struggling with his conscience.

The man was reported to be always extremely remorseful about his job.

His workplace was inside Chikurubi Maximum Prison and the gallows, built long before independence, are said to be made of scaffolding and wood.

Work for the hangman has no routine. One day he would execute between two and four prisoners at dawn then go for months before other hangings were carried out.

Since 2004, no one has been hanged in Zimbabwe because there is no hangman.

But, given the sudden demand for the job, we could soon have those condemned souls being sent to the gallows while people claiming to be fighting against this impious act pontificate in offices — probably making applications for more donor funds, instead of fighting for the abolition of the death penalty.

When President Robert Mugabe met with Pope John Paul II in 1988, executions were suspended for a decade. During the moratorium, scores of death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment on humanitarian grounds.But then the macabre practice resumed a few years later.

A brief look at the qualification requirements for the eccentric job of killing people will tell you the profession, if one would call it such, demands few but curious skills.

The job requires basic education, perhaps anything above Grade Seven — but a bit more training seems in order since execution by hanging involves knowledge of ropes, knots, basic mechanics, body weight and general human physiology.

The hangman’s job is reserved only for men. According to experts, the job demands strength and unwavering focus. It is not for the faint-hearted. A hangman cannot have second thoughts just before he pulls the lever.

If a hangman is found, jail officials would teach him how to tie the noose and train him to maintain the correct posture while executing as this is vital. But it appears the toughest part of the job is not about ropes and levers. It is about conscience.

“A hangman should never have second thoughts, if he does he should be retired,” a former principal prison officer said.

The most evil aspect of the death penalty is the painful reality of one “dying” several times over before they actually die.

An inmate on death row, Shepherd Mazango, made an emotional plea to the Supreme Court last year in his appeal against his death sentence.

He wrote in his court deposition on March 30, 2010: “God knows when I am going to be executed. I am anxious about this every day.”

He wants his sentence commuted to life imprisonment and argues the provision of the death penalty under Sections 337 to 339 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act offends human dignity, is in breach of Section 15 of the Constitution and amounts to arbitrary deprivation of life, in breach of Section 12 of the Constitution.

But he says his major problem is the anguish and severe trauma he has to endure during the time of waiting to die because of the shortage of hangmen.

“The very thought that I am dying steals all my hope for the future, makes me restless and the delay traumatises me. It causes me emotional and psychological trauma. Worse still, to think that I can spend 13 years before execution, like my colleague George Manyonga, crushes me.”

Several prisoners on death row have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment after the Supreme Court ruled it inhumane to delay their execution.

The issue of the death penalty was quite topical during the Copac outreach exercise and remains a window of hope for the condemned.

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