16 Jun, 2024 - 00:06 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

Tendai Chara

“THE death penalty is inherently cruel and ineffective as a deterrent.”

This statement by Dzivaresekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa sparked debate as he introduced the Death Penalty Abolition Bill in Parliament in 2023.

The Bill, which is awaiting Senate approval before reaching President Mnangagwa’s desk, seeks to expunge capital punishment from the country’s legal code.

Mushoriwa’s arguments go beyond just deterrence.

Gogo Mamoyo

He criticises the system’s inherent bias.

“As a Member of Parliament representing poor communities, I have seen how the death penalty disproportionately targets those who cannot afford proper legal defence. The wealthy, with their resources, can escape the harshest punishment,” he said.

The legislator further said the fact that the death penalty can be unjustly applied to innocent victims, with irreversible consequences, is another factor which motivated him to introduce the Bill.

“An execution is irreversible,” Mushoriwa noted. “There is no going back if someone is later proven innocent.”

Death Penalty

Although there have been no executions since 2005, Zimbabwe’s courts continue to hand down death sentences. Currently, there are 63 people on death row.

Public opinion, however, seems to favour the abolishment of the death penalty, with strong support from human rights groups, ordinary citizens and influential figures.

The odds

George Govere, a lawyer, explained why there is a need to pass the Death Penalty Abolition Bill.

“In the current scenario, the Constitution allows the death penalty for specific cases. Abolishing the death penalty would require legislative changes, not a constitutional amendment.

“Despite a moratorium on executions, the presence of the death penalty in law reflects a stagnant approach, hence there was need to change the laws,” he argued.

According to Govere, the proposed law would prohibit any court from imposing the death penalty and from carrying out a death sentence previously handed down.

In the event of the abolishment of the death penalty, it is believed that the 63 death row prisoners would be taken back to court for resentencing.


Gogo Mamoyo (Letwin Manguwo), a traditionalist and spiritual healer, argued that the death penalty is an “alien” practice that must be abolished.

“First and foremost, the death penalty was never part of our culture. Our culture believes in a restorative justice system,” she said.

Gogo Mamoyo equated the wrath of avenging spirits in the traditional African culture to the death penalty.

“Avenging spirits would bring death and suffering to the families of those who would have committed the murder. In my view, this was a death sentence on its own.”

Father Kennedy Muguti, the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Harare vicar-general, said Catholics never supported the death penalty.

“Life is sacred and no one has authority over it. The Bible clearly forbids killing,” he said.

Fr Muguti said the death penalty is not deterrent enough.

“Countries in Asia impose death sentences on drug dealers. However, criminals are still dealing in drugs despite the sentences.”

Never Changadzo, a History teacher at a private school in Harare agrees.

“Before the arrival of the colonialists, African communities did not impose death sentences. The colonialists introduced it to exterminate whoever was rallying against their rule,” Changadzo said.

The local hangman position itself has remained vacant since it was advertised in 2012. The fact that there have been no takers for this grim task seems to suggest a growing societal discomfort with capital punishment. This strengthens the argument that Zimbabwean society is moving away from accepting executions.

However, the issue is not black and white.

Tonderai Mupara, a resident of Harare’s Glen View suburb, believes the death penalty acts as a deterrent and should remain in place.

“I foresee an increase in murder cases if the death sentence is scrapped. The death penalty is a deterrent factor and if it is removed, criminal elements will wreak havoc,” he noted.


Recent nationwide consultations revealed that the majority of Zimbabweans want the death penalty scrapped.

President Mnangagwa himself is a known advocate of the abolishment of the death penalty.

Psychologist Dr Silvester Mombeyarara said confinement to death row for a long period can have devastating effects.

“Research has shown that those who have been on death row for an extended period often suffer from delusions that can lead to insanity. Death row inmates are also prone to suicidal tendencies,” said Dr Mombeyarara.

These combined factors suggest a strong movement towards removing the death penalty from Zimbabwe’s legal system. The belief that the death sentence is not a deterrent seems widely shared.

“If the sentence was effective, we would not be seeing a rise in murder cases,” argued Nevile Akende, a Harare resident.

Statistics provided by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service earlier this year indicate that the number of people caged for homicide rose from 730 to 845 between January 2021 and October 2021.

By November 2022, the figure had increased to 984.

Albert Pierrepoint, a well-known British executioner who once claimed to have hanged 550 people, also, at one time, believed the death penalty was not a deterrent.

In a 1974 memoir, Pierrepoint wrote: “It is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time.

“I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over responsibility for revenge to other people.”

However, two years after publishing the memoir, the prolific hangman appeared to have changed his mind. In a radio interview with the BBC, he stated that he believed crime in Britain had increased since outlawing executions and that his country may need to bring back capital punishment in order to solve the problem.


Globally, there has been increased advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty, with many countries in the Southern African Development Community region already doing so.

In 2022, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights called on all member countries of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to “take steps towards abolishing the death penalty”.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

To date, some 170 countries have abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty in law or in practice.

In Southern Africa, Angola, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Zambia have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

Zimbabwe signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties that advocate the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.

Although Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights permits the use of the death penalty in limited circumstances, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights Office has stated that capital punishment is not consistent with the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

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