To hang or  not to hang?
Both Christian and traditionalists have been vocal as they have denounced capital punishment

To hang or not to hang?

Tendai Chara and Livingstone Marufu

A distraught Mr Alfred Mashamba of Chivhu was recently featured in this publication begging Government to offer him a job as the country’s hangman.

Basing on Mr Mashamba’s choice of words and tone, it is abundantly clear that the resettled farmer is deeply agitated and desperate to take up the post. Zimbabwe’s last executioner quit the post in 2005 after hanging two notorious criminals, Edgar Masendeke and Stephen Chidhumo.

The death sentence has often been a subject of intense moral and political debate. Both Christian and traditionalists have been vocal as they have denounced capital punishment. They argue that no-one has the right to kill another human being.

Traditionalist, Sekuru Friday Chisanyu, is on record maintaining that the death penalty is against Zimbabwean culture. He is of the opinion that capital punishment is not only barbaric but also “unAfrican”.

Whenever issues to do with the death sentences are raised, Christians, have always been ready, as they furiously quote several biblical verses which they claim are testimony to the fact that God forbids capital punishment.

Pastor Moreblessing Chipiringo, of the Jehovah Sharma Ministries, said capital punishment was evil.

“The Bible is very clear on this one. One of the commandments prohibits the shedding of blood. In my view, the death sentence should be scrapped,” Pastor Chipiringo said.

Government, mostly through Vice-President and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, has expressed how uncomfortable it is with the death sentence. But just three years ago national consultations on the contents of the Constitution that was to be adopted in 2013 showed the majority supported capital punishment.

Mr Victor Mutero, a street vendor said scrapping the death sentence would result in an upsurge in violent crime.

“The death sentence is deterrent and must never be removed. We are certainly going to witness a frightening increase in murder cases if the death penalty is scrapped,” he argued.

Pr Funny Mutawu of the New Life Ministries said the Bible endorsed capital punishment and it was a significant feature of the justice system in Old Testament.

According to the clergyman, those that were found guilty of such crimes as murder, rape, witchcraft and false prophecy were often executed.

“Those that kill must also be killed, that is what the Bible says. The book of Numbers, for example, clearly endorses capital punishment,” Pr Mutawu added.

He quoted Numbers 35:31 which reads: “Do not accept ransom for the life of a murderer who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.”

A lawyer pointed out that Zimbabweans are now relying more on laws rather than moral values to regulate behaviour.

Television host and social commentator Dr Rebecca Chisamba weighed in: “The over-reliance on laws to regulate behaviour shows that we are not as civilised as we think. We do not need to be told by the courts that doing certain things is morally and culturally wrong.”

Lawyer Coddy Nyamundanda is on record saying that problems always arise when the law is interpreted in moral terms.

“At the end of the day, without any legislative changes, the law remains the law. Difficulties might arise if we are to compare the law versus morality,” Mr Nyamundanda said.

Mr Amen Tapera, a sociologist, said law enforcement agents and laws had replaced moral values, customs and traditions as a means of regulating human behaviour.

“Laws have replaced decency. Instead of considering moral values, people are now being regulated by laws,” Mr Tapera said.

As the agitated Mr Mashamba is itching to take up the hangman’s post, Government is considering scrapping the death sentence.

Under the Constitution, women and persons under the age of the 21 or above 70 are not eligible for the death penalty.

In January, 16 inmates challenged their pending executions on the basis that they had overstayed on the deathrow and that the current legal framework does not allow anyone to be hanged.

The inmates have spent between four and 18 years awaiting their fate and argue that Section 48 of the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to life.

Fourteen of the inmates want the court to remove them from death row and commute their sentences to life imprisonment. Currently, 97 people are on deathrow in Zimbabwe. Since 2005 when armed robbers and murderers Masendeke and Chidhumo were hanged, no-one else has been executed, making Zimbabwe “a de facto capital punishment abolitionist”.

Those sentenced to death are entitled to an automatic appeal at the Supreme Court, and according to Section 31 of the Constitution, the President has the power to pardon or commute sentences by exercising his prerogative of mercy.

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