Zim Justice Minister puts mora

Zim Justice Minister puts moratorium on executions

Could Zimbabwe lead the rest of Africa with a shift in thinking when it comes to capital punishment?

Zim Justice Minister puts mora

Zimbabwe appears to have an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, as the country’s Justice Minister says that he can bring himself to sign death warrants for the 97 inmates condemned to live on death row.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa will effectively be sparing the lives of all prisoners who had been condemned to die, saying that he finds the practice of capital punishment too harsh while calling for an all-out abolition of the practice.

“As we speak, we have 97 inmates who were sentenced to death by the court, but are still awaiting execution. One of them is female, while 96 others are males. Fortunately, my signature as Justice Minister is required for them to be hanged and I am not giving it,” the minister said at the opening of the SADC Lawyers Association’s 15th Annual General Meeting and Conference.

Minister Mnangagwa had received a death sentence himself during Ian Smith’s government for his acts of political activism (including a murder conviction). The minister said that his experience grants him a unique perspective into the issues involved.

“I know there are a lot of people […] who believe in the death penalty. I don’t. The difference between you and me is you have not been sentenced to death. I have been sentenced to death, so I know what I am talking about.”

One of the most senior members of the ruling ZANU-PF, Mnangagwa’s clemency sets a different tone from President Robert Mugabe‘s rhetoric. While support for the death penalty continues to trend highly in public opinion polls, Zimbabwe has gradually been moving away from the practice, outlawing capital punishment for women as well as for men aged below 21 and above 70 with the recent introduction of the country’s new constitution.

The last execution conducted in Zimbabwe was in 2003; however, these promising developments ware juxtaposed by the country’s appointment of a new executioner only 18 months ago – after leaving the position of Zimbabwe’s “hangman” unoccupied since 2005.

Human rights organisations suspect that regardless of political and legal circumstances illegal executions of political dissidents continue.