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The death penalty

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I found it rather ironic recently that just after reading in the Mail & Guardian of this week that Zimbabwe’s Chikurubi prison has for the past 5 years been struggling to find a hangman; I encountered the Fingaz’s opinion by CZ bemoaning the death sentence in Zimbabwe. He was especially bemoaning the fact that opponents of the death penalty are amazingly silent at a time they should be making a lot of noise while the constitution is currently being debated. According to the M&G, the absence of an executioner has meant that some 50+ men on death row have been leading traumatized lives awaiting execution.  Others have gone as far as 10 years on the waiting list, living in isolation and at real risk of losing their sanity. If these reports are anything to go by, it means for the past five years or so there have been no legal executions in the country (if that’s any consolation to CZ), thanks to the job nobody wants notwithstanding the 94% unemployment rate in Zimbabwe as observed by M&G.

Because CZ was extremely impassioned about the issue of capital punishment to the extent of expending three quarters of the Notebook – where there are usually numerous brief paragraphs of other stories, I started to interrogate my own feelings about the death penalty. While I appreciate the observations CZ made concerning wrongful execution and the irreversibility of death, I could not help but think (and this is a very personal opinion) that I wouldn’t want complete abolishment of the practice in view of the fact that in some situations, only the death of an offender will give other people peace of mind.

Most of my colleagues are completely opposed to the idea of any human being taking it upon themselves to kill another asking where anyone obtains the moral high ground to play god. Well, the very same ground from whence criminals obtain the impetus to commit heinous crimes against humanity I have said.

The declaration of rights says everyone (including rapists and murderers) has the right to life and security of person, and that our exercising our rights shouldn’t impinge on the rights of others. The declaration is ofcourse silent on what should happen in the event of impingement of rights.

CZ in his article intelligently observes that the death sentence ‘…serves no particular use…unless one argues that they derive satisfaction from people being dead!’ I would like to point out that people sometimes do derive something valuable; namely peace, closure and a sense of retribution! Remember Stephen Chidhumo and Edward Masendeke  – the notorious armed robbers and murderers who in 1995 escaped death row and relentlessly terrorized citizens.  Did not the collective exhale of society happen only after their respective executions? Sometimes snuffing out undesirables is the only way of preventing the needless deaths of others.

The question that probably begs an answer is – how does any society determine which crimes warrant the death penalty? In Zimbabwe, I know treason tops the list on the list that includes murder, mutiny, drug trafficking and any such crimes that may be sentenced by the court.  Like in Egypt, I think rape, especially of minors should also form part of that core list.

Some say that killing serial criminals is too easy, and to a certain extent I agree. But until such a time they devise a higher form of punishment more severe than just a lifetime’s detention for heinous crimes, the death sentence might be the ultimate pain to be inflicted on those who cause the pain and anguish of others. Take child rapists for example. The only way I wouldn’t oppose their execution is if their prescribed punishment is castration or subjection to daily torture that probably entails cutting off a body part each day until they die from the agony of it.

I take you back to an issue I raised not long ago, about the rapist who attempted to molest my cousin and only God knows whose child else he previously managed to subdue. While justice still has not been obtained for my cousin (yes the hurdles continue), the man is traumatizing my aunt (who is a defenseless single parent by the way) and her children day and night. Sometimes he knocks repeatedly on her door at night like a mad man, and nobody will touch him because Labor has conveniently stepped in. May I hasten to add that the guy paid admission of guilt.

It is people like him whose necks I wouldn’t mind if the hangman (if he gets found) tightens the noose around. Hell, if I had the guts, I’d do it myself. Capital punishment should be a preserve for malcontents like him, who are guilty of heinous crimes like violating defenseless little girls, admit to such and yet show no remorse and have the nerve to continue traumatizing their victim just because the flawed arms of the law allow scum like him to slip through the clutches of justice. No sir, may capital punishment carry on especially for such because when they depart the earth, only then will peace prevail in our lives.

Capital punishment – is a legal and effective form of punishment. And if only one potential murderer, assassin or terrorist is deterred from committing a capital crime because he or she fears the death penalty, then that single act of deterrence has effectively reduced the loss of lives.
- T. Max Beer Jr, Liberia

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