Cabinet divided over death penalty

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A former prison inmate Elias Mpofu who survived death row after 11 months of incarceration in solitary confinement, yesterday said capital punishment traumatised convicts mentally and physically and appealed for its abolishment.

Mpofu was arrested and charged with murder in 1983 and spent 11 months at Chikurubi Maximum Prison with a death sentence hanging over him. He was eventually acquitted of the charge.

Speaking yesterday at a function organised by the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro), during a campaign against capital punishment, Mpofu said while those who committed crimes of murder normally did not traumatise their victims, the State did.

“The person who stands accused of the offence does not traumatise his victim before committing the offence, but the State does. This does not reflect justice, but vengeance. Imagine keeping someone under trauma where levels of appetite can depart to the extent that you will spend three days without eating,” said Mpofu.

His sentiments were echoed by Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa, who survived a death sentence because he was underage.

“My views on the death penalty are to a large extent, informed by the harrowing experiences I went through while on death row, the sanctity of life and the need to rehabilitate offenders. In saying this, I am aware that such experiences were not unique to me, but shared by many other prisoners. I only escaped the hangman’s noose due to the fact that I was underage,” said Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa told delegates that he had been facing resistance in Cabinet as he tried to have the death sentence scrapped from the Constitution. He said Cabinet was divided in the middle over whether or not to abolish the death penalty.

Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe, a former High Court judge in Zimbabwe who has in his career sentenced convicts to death, also made an argument against the death sentence saying most judges did not enjoy handing down such sentences but unfortunately they had to do so because it was provided for in the law.

“We take an oath to do justice according to the law. As a judge, you do the best you can with the evidence given to you and some judges strain to find the extenuating circumstances just to evade the death penalty,” said Mutambanengwe.

European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe Aldo Dell Aricca, whose organisation is helping Zacro in the fight against the death sentence, said the EU was driven by the realisation that they had made mistakes in the past to introduce the death sentence and wanted to correct the error.