Capital punishment has been a contentious issue in Zimbabwe for many years. While the new Constitution must be hailed for giving reprieve to women and men aged under 21 or over 70 years of age at the time of committing the crime, a lot of people still believe the death sentence should be removed from our statutes.
Opinion: The Standard Editor
The debate over this controversial issue comes to the fore once again this week when the Constitutional Court sits to hear the third case of death row inmates who are fighting to have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Zimbabwe has not carried out any executions in more than a decade, with the last hangings being that of Edmore Edmund Masendeke and Stephen Chidhumo way back in 2003. The 13-year break has been lauded by human rights defenders and calls are now for Zimbabwe to declare an official moratorium on executions and to abolish the death sentence altogether. Amnesty International describes capital punishment as “the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”.
Farai Lawrence Ndlovu and Wisdom Gochera will have their fate decided by the highest court in the land in a case where they are represented by Tendai Biti.
The two were sentenced to death shortly before the new Constitution, which gives reprieve on murder convicts, came into force in 2013. Section 4.1 of the constitution has the encouraging sub-title “The right to life”, but this fundamental human right is almost immediately erased when, in subsection (2), the death penalty is announced.
“A law may permit the death penalty to be imposed only on persons convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances . . .” the section reads.
We share the view that before we advocate for the death penalty, we need to take into cognisance the old adage that two wrongs do not make a right and that two murders do not bring back a life.
We should not pretend that capital punishment is not murder because of the legal technicality behind it. While we do not condone criminals, including murderers, we think the death penalty is morally wrong.
Section 4.5 of the constitution has the sub-title “Freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment” and it clearly states: “No one may be subjected to physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The cruel irony is that there is no worse torture than being on death row; living each day knowing that someone has the legal power to take away your life any time. By allowing the death penalty, the constitution in its present form is presupposing the infallibility of the judicial system, which is not always the case.
Judges and juries, like any other human beings, are prone to mistakes and globally, there are documented cases where people have been wrongly executed by the State. In this country, we have had people wrongfully accused of murder; Cain Nkala’s case quickly comes to mind.
We are all aware of how the justice system is prone to manipulation by politicians in this country and it might not be surprising to have innocent people hanged for political expediency.
In a country like ours, where the police are known for lack of professional ethics, forced and falsified confessions can easily lead innocent people to the gallows.
It is also a shuddering thought that the State would employ a professional murderer in the name of a hangman. By implication, the executioner is a murderer who deserves to be executed as well.
A convicted murderer deserves severe punishment, but he or she is still a human being who deserves the chance to be corrected and rehabilitated, which is central to the modern-day prison system.
Research has shown that although the death sentence represents a strong condemnation of brutal and violent crimes, it does not necessarily deter people from perpetrating violent crimes.
Those who clamour for the death penalty do not know that they have literally descended to ancient times where an eye for an eye was central to legislation and this, as Mahatma Ghandi once said, will make the whole world blind.
It will only serve the purpose of advancing the murderous cycle.
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.
It is refreshing the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is also the Justice minister, is himself a strong proponent for the abolition of the death penalty.
We rest in the hopeful comfort that Mnangagwa will prevail in his fight against capital punishment so that we as a country can stop playing God.