Zimbabwe women escape hanging
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Zimbabwe's new draft constitution, which will be put to referendum in the next few months, exempts women, men under 21 at the time of the crime and the over 70s from the death penalty.
It also prohibits the imposition of death penalty as a mandatory punishment.
If adopted in the forthcoming referendum, the new Constitution could stay the execution of two women out of a total 76 inmates on death row.
But for the victims' families, a new Constitution could be another devastating blow in meting out justice, made worse by the imminent stay of execution prompted by seemingly new sensitivities emerging as civilisation advances against punishment that many now see as revolting.
One of the female death-row inmates, Rosemary Khumalo, was convicted of the 1998 gruesome murder of her businessman suitor Maxwell Sibanda.
Khumalo was also convicted separately of a string of robberies.
Now 69, her lawyers have long tried to save her life by claiming that the she has suffered enough on death row since her 2000 conviction and do not understand why she is to be executed. Her death would violate the new Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment," they say.
She has petitioned President Robert Mugabe five times begging for mercy but two of those petitions were turned down.
She still awaits the reply on the other pleas for mercy.
Now the new Constitution offers a stay on the execution, after several scrambles to appeal to the Supreme Court were consistently denied over the years.
International human rights group Amnesty International says while the proposed limitations to the application of the death penalty are welcome, it called for the death penalty to be abolished fully in the new Constitution, regardless of gender and the circumstances in which a crime was committed.
Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International southern Africa director, said the practical impact of the provisions under the current draft to exempt women would not significantly reduce the use of the death penalty.
Meanwhile, the appointment of a new hangman has raised grave macabre fears that the country may be preparing to start executions again after a seven-year break.
Zimbabwe has not conducted any executions since 2005, the same year that the country's last hangman retired.
The last person to be executed was Mandlenkosi "Never" Masina Mandha, who was executed in July 2005.
"This macabre recruitment is disturbing and suggests that Zimbabwe does not want to join the global trend towards abolition of this cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment," Kututwa said.
"The death penalty is a violation of the right to life which is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a state party.
"The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state.
"We oppose the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner."
Of the 76 convicts condemned to death by hanging, they have been kept in solitary confinement in the barracks close to the gallows. Some of them have languished there for more than a decade.
Some of the longest serving death row inmates include George Manyonga, who has spent 16 years awaiting execution, and James Dube who has spent 13 years on death row.
With 76 prisoners on death row, there is a growing clamour to abolish capital punishment through the ongoing Constitution-making process.
Many Zimbabweans see a new constitution as the centrepiece of positive change in the country. There has been popular demand for this reform going back well over a decade ago, and the abolishment of the death penalty is high on the agenda.
The Daily News understands that of the 76 convicts on death row, dozens have petitioned the President seeking clemency.
The rest are fated to hang.
Civil rights activists insist judicial executions should be stopped.
Pope John Paul II, during a visit to Zimbabwe appealed to the government to abandon the death penalty, so has several churches here.
A few prisoners on death row have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment after the Supreme Court ruled it inhumane to delay their execution.
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