Decades of campaigning against capital punishment may finally get some recognition. It appears, although not so bright yet, there is some light at the end of the tunnel in which the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro) and other orgainsations and individuals have been crawling in the fight against the death sentence.
We had this week human rights organisations calling on government to scrap the death penalty from its statutes arguing the legislation was “unjust and archaic”. Former Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa echoed the same sentiments, saying death row was a harrowing experience.
“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,” Mnangagwa said, referring to the pre-independence horrors he experienced while on death row from which he was saved by an age technicality.
Mnangagwa, who is now a powerful minister of government, in charge of the Defence portfolio, says he has lobbied colleagues in Cabinet to have capital punishment scrapped from the Constitution.
Apparently, he has gained some ground and, by his word, Cabinet is now divided over the issue. Former High Court judge Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe, who has in his career sentenced convicts to death, has also come out clear about what he thinks about the death penalty.
He wishes it were abolished and says many judges feel the same, but are forced by law to sentence convicts to death.
He said judges go to great length to find extenuating circumstances in a bid to avoid reaching the capital sentence verdict.
“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.
Most Southern African countries have abolished the death penalty. Zimbabwe has carried capital punishment on its statutes from a Constitution inherited from the colonial era and has executed many people since 1980.
The last hanging was carried out in 2003 after which no execution has taken place because there is no hangman. Government has since advertised for the position of a hangman, but apparently there are no takers.
Zimbabwe’s last hangman — some say — was a foreigner who carried out his last job on “legendary” criminals 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.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the country should take advantage of the constitution-making exercise to abolish capital punishment.
“The death penalty violates the right to life and is cruel, inhuman and degrading,” said Kumbirai Mafunda, the organisation’s spokesperson. Jenni Williams, the director of rights group Women of Zimbabwe Arise, aptly said only God had the right to take life.
“Who are we to hold power over life and death? Who are we to play God? That is God’s place and no one else’s,” said Williams.
Several prisoners on death row have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment after the Supreme Court ruled it inhumane to delay their execution. Zimbabweans should indeed take the opportunity of the new Constitution and speak resolutely against the dehumanising law making it quite proper and legal to take other people’s lives for whatever reasons.