28 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Inside the Monster or At Crossroads?


Capital punishment is not only a topic of much heated debate and controversy in Zimbabwe, but worldwide. Our legislators have in the past weeks been engrossed in discussions on whether to retain the death sentence or to abolish it. This has also ignited debate in commuter omnibuses as Zimbabweans go about their daily chores.

Does this entail that Zimbabweans are at the crossroads as regards the death sentence in the Zimbabwean Constitution?

Now that we are to adopt a new Constitution given the likelihood that Zimbabweans are going to embrace it in the forthcoming referendum, will those who had been given the death sentence escape the hangman's noose?

Some people contend that capital punishment purports a licence to kill, something that is barbaric, archaic, ungodly and must be condemned.

Laudable as it might be, it must be pointed out that human existence is a story of the struggle between good and evil.

St Augustine, Thomas Hobbes and others correctly posited that human beings are naturally evil.

However, this is not to dispel the notion that the same human beings are moral.

Humans as moral beings know what is right and what is wrong.

It cannot be denied that God gave us the freedom to choose to do what we think is right or to do the opposite, we were given the right to choose.

Thomas Hobbes came to the conclusion that "life is nasty, short and brutish" because of the decisions that we make.

St Augustine also observed that man is egocentric and self -regarding.

He also opined that it is not that babies do not want to do evil but only that they lack the strength to perpetrate evil acts.

The desire for the majority of the people world wide is therefore to end injustices and all forms of violence. Governments therefore exist to further the will of God on earth.

It is the servant of God and the ruling elite are his lieutenants to execute his wrath on wrongdoers.

It is a fact that governments have got the right to unleash violence or terror on its citizens if they behave in a manner that is undesirable and put the security of the state and general populace at risk for "man" without morals are beasts.

Punishment has always been meted out to wrong doers as a way of discouraging would-be wrongdoers or criminals from unlawful action. It is therefore the duty of the Government and society at large to prevent criminal acts like murder.

The strongest punishment at our disposal as society to deter murder is capital punishment or the death penalty.

Capital punishment or the death sentence is a legal process that entails that a person be put to death by the state as punishment for a crime.

The judicial decree that someone be punished in this manner is the death sentence.

Presently, more than 50 states carry out the death sentence, while more than 90 countries have abolished it.

Countries that still mete out capital punishment on criminals are, the United States of America, India, China, Japan, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Malawi, Pakistan, Egypt, Zimbabwe, North Korea etc.

The question that arises is whether Zimbabwe must join the majority of countries that have abolished capital punishment.

Those who contend that capital punishment must be abolished argue that executions are horrendous, violate human rights and encourage a culture of violence.

They opine that society is brutalised by the death sentence and there is no tangible evidence to date that capital punishment deters murder or other criminal acts like drug and human trafficking.

They argue that sending murderers to the electric chair or the shooting squad is likely to ignite more violence and more murders.

Apart from the above arguments those against capital punishment are of the opinion that murders are committed in moments of passion or anger that the perpetrator is unable to think clearly hence it is an impulsive act.

They go on to argue that such people must at least be given a life sentence for society will be assured of safety because the criminals or murderers will be incarcerated.

Adherents of the abolitionist idea argue that the death penalty is against the biblical commandment that says: "Do not kill!"

It must be noted that different religious personnel have got different views regarding the death sentence.

Moslems condone capital punishment but are of the opinion that murder is a civil crime that is covered by the law of retaliation.

They strongly believe that it must be those who are directly affected by the murder for example the family of the deceased who must decide on whether the perpetrator of the murder or the offender should be punished with death by the authorities or be made to pay compensation.

The Quran (5:32) states that " if anyone kills a person it would be as if he killed all people. And if anyone serves a life it would be as if he saved the life of all people. Punishment for murder is death."

Protestant and Christian churches oppose capital punishment.

Christians believe that the death penalty is against Christ's message of forgiveness.

What is interesting is that the late Pope John Paul ll was of the opinion that capital punishment should be allowed only when defending society.

His argument was that "It is the duty of civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power is an act of paramount obedience to God's commandment which prohibits murder."

Those who support capital punishment also strongly contend that capital punishment or the death sentence deters crime.

From the survey that we carried out in Harare, many were of the opinion that the death sentence must be upheld in the Zimbabwean Constitution.

To support their argument, they said the only thing that can deter would-be serial killers is capital punishment.

One respondent gave an example of a young man whose homestead is broken into and is held at gunpoint while his home is ransacked.

After his house has been ransacked his wife and daughters are raped and then killed and acid is thrown on the young man's face.

If perpetrators of such crimes are caught by the police, should they be given a life sentence or a death sentence?

Another respondent also gave an example of a man or woman who shoots his or her spouse more than four times but when asked why he/she did such an act retorts that it was a mistake.

Another respondent opined that if murderers are aware that it is a case of life for life then potential murderers will have some homework before engaging themselves in such criminal acts.

He went on to give the example of South Africa, a country that had abolished the death sentence and now gruesome murders are a daily occurrence.

He concluded by saying that murderers and serial killers must be killed so that they cannot kill again.

Others opined that society must not value the lives of convicted murderers than they value the lives of innocent victims who may be spared by deterring prospective or potential killers.

One scholar, Isaac Eholich, a criminologist found out that for every inmate who was killed, seven lives were spared because others were deterred from committing murders.

Professor Ernest van den Haag concluded that "capital punishment is likely to deter more than other punishments because people fear death more than anything else. Whatever people fear most is likely to deter most.

"The death penalty is the only penalty that deters prisoners already serving a life sentence and tempted to kill to kill a prison guard, or offenders about to be arrested and facing a life sentence."

It is beyond dispute that the death sentence is more feared than a life sentence and therefore it is arguably just to let the guilty suffer the punishment that they risked when they voluntarily perpetrate their crimes.

Dear readers, as Zimbabweans we must continue to reflect on the advantages of retaining or abolishing capital punishment in this country.

Darlington N.Mahuku & Bowden B.C. Mbanje are lecturers in international relations, and peace and governance with Bindura University of Science Education.

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