Friday 23 September 2022


IT’S been 6 273 days since Zimbabwe hanged a condemned person by his neck until he died. For the gruesome murder of Themba Nkiwane, the High Court sentenced Never Masina Mandlenkosi to death in 2002 and he was executed on July 22, 2005. Since then no other prisoner has been executed.

 With President Mnangagwa being outspoken about the death penalty, it is not surprising that the country is a de facto abolitionist, even though it retains capital punishment in its criminal law.

 The country doesn’t even have a hangman.

 “Zimbabwe has no hangman,” Mrs Virginia Mabhiza, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs told Saturday Chronicle.

No hangman and executions in the last 17 years for Zimbabwe but the courts keep on passing death sentences as enshrined in the 2013 Constitution that was adopted following a referendum after a constitutional review process.  There are 62 prisoners on death row in Zimbabwe as the country looks set to continue with its moratorium on executions.

 In 2013, as Justice Minister then, President Mnangagwa publicly declared his disdain for capital punishment of prisoners.

 “As someone who has been on death row myself and only saved by an ‘age technicality’, I believe that our justice delivery system must rid itself of this odious and obnoxious provision,” he said at the Harare Gardens on October 10 of that year.

 In a report at the ongoing 51st regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the question of the death penalty, the human rights committee states that article 6 (6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reaffirms the position that State parties that are not yet totally abolitionist should be on an irrevocable path towards complete eradication of the death penalty, de facto and de jure, in the foreseeable future. The death penalty cannot be reconciled with full respect for the right to life, and abolition of the death penalty is both desirable and necessary for the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights.

 “Some 170 States have abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice, or have suspended executions for more than 10 years. In 2020, the General Assembly adopted resolution 75/183, in which it called upon States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty. In their submissions for the present report, several States described their process of and support for abolition,” reads the human rights committee report.  According to a paper by Professor of Criminology Carolyn Doyle on Let’s Abolish Death Penalty in Zimbabwe by The Death Penalty Project in partnership with a local non-governmental organisation, Veritas, the United Nations considers Zimbabwe as a de facto abolitionist, having not executed anyone since July 2005.

 While the 2013 Constitution failed to abolish the death penalty, it narrowed its scope and imposed restrictions on its use. Article 48 abolished the mandatory death penalty and the new discretionary death sentence can be imposed only for murder where there are aggravating circumstances. The new Constitution also abolished the death penalty for young people up to and including the age of 21 (at the time of the crime), for people aged 70 and over, and for all women.

 The Death Penalty Project considered views of opinion leaders of 42 influential persons who could be considered opinion formers or key influencers, including those who work in positions of responsibility within the criminal justice process. Interviewees included politicians, legal practitioners, religious leaders, leading members of civil society or academia, senior public servants, leading members of trades unions, those with a background in defence, including war veterans, and influential members of the media.

 “Interviewees were asked about their views on: the retention and administration of the death penalty; the likelihood of abolition and how that could be achieved; the possible benefits and demerits of the death penalty; the implications of retention or abolition in respect to Zimbabwe’s place in the wider Southern African region, as well as the international community; and other, more effective, measures to tackle violent crime,” reads the report. Chronicle


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