To kill, or not to kill, that is the question

The current draft constitution retains the death penalty for aggravated murder, flying in the face of reccomendations from international human rights group Amnesty International.

Executive director of the Zimbabwe chapter of Amnesty, Cousin Zilala, said the death penalty was the “ultimate violation of the right to life”

Capital punishment is a controversial subject in many countries. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty, calling it a “cruel and unusual punishment”. This decision was hailed by many as a milestone in man’s advance toward a more civilized and humane society.

But the issue was far from settled. US legislators, officials, churches and many others opposed the abolition. In America it is now up to individual states to decide whether or not to reinstate capital punishment.

We have heard little debate over in it in Zimbabwe as we draft a new constitution. Dual citizenship, devolution, homosexuality, and the specifics of presidential power are the hot topics of debate. Taking a human life is no less important than these issues. Asked about the issue of capital punishment in the constitution, Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T chairman of the drafting body COPAC, offhandedly said, “On the death penalty we should be guided by international trends.” But international trends are not always right for us.

In many instances the so-called modern trends are nothing but the decadent immoralities of permissive societies which are totally incompatible with our culture.

Should we follow all such aberrations just because they are modern international trends?

No sir. Zimbabweans need to think through and debate the issue of capital punishment from their own unique perspective. Who knows, the whole world may just follow our lead.

Historically, capital punishment did not exist in Zimbabwe. It was introduced by colonialists in 1898 when a white judge sentenced Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi to death for their role in the Shona Rebellion (Chimurenga). These judgements were grossly unjust because the invasion of their God-given territory by armed colonialists was an act of war. According to universal law they were acting legally in defence of what was theirs. Real justice would have demanded the invaders’ death.

Among the Shona, Ndebele and other Zimbabwean communities, there was no state authority to try cases and no prisons to incarcerate the guilty. Chiefs and elders tried cases and those found guilty had to pay compensation or a fine.

In Shona there is the saying, “Hapana mhosva isingaripwe”: there is no offence for which there is no compensation. If someone offended the community as a whole, he or she was fined a beast or beasts which were given to the court of elders, the ‘dare’. If they had offended an individual then they paid compensation to that individual.

Cases of murder were very rare because Africans believed in the power of the spirit of the murdered person to exact vengeance not only on the murderer but on his kith and kin as well. The murderer was regarded as being infected or surrounded by the spirit of his victim called ‘ngozi’ which would afflict him and his relatives until appropriate compensation was paid to the victim’s aggrieved relatives.

If the relatives of the victim went out and killed the murderer in revenge they would not be regarded as having done wrong. Appropriate compensation was usually that of giving another human being to replace the victim. The murderer’s family would give a young girl to be wife to a relative of the victim to bear children by him. This would also wash away the hatred of the offended family since children from the marriage would be blood relatives of both families.

In an article such as this it is impossible to discuss all arguments surrounding capital punishment. Nevertheless, one has to congratulate COPAC’s elimination of capital punishment for all offences except aggravated murder.

In Zimbabwe aggravated murders are committed with impunity because of the breakdown of law and order. Known murderers are not brought to book. They even openly brag about their dastardly deeds. Others are not afraid to commit the same crimes because they know that nothing will happen to them. Instead, it is honest and law abiding citizens who now fear for their lives.

Capital punishment is not only a deterrent. Justice demands it. When one kills a human being who was ‘created in the image of God’ the whole equilibrium of creation is upset. It can only be restored through retribution. According to the book of Exodus retribution is as follows: “But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe,” Exodus 21:26. Capital punishment restores stability to the world.

Recently, in Norway, Anders Behring Brevik killed 77 innocent people. During his trial he said his victims deserved to die because they supported the pro-immigration government which was allowing too many Muslims into Norway. He said he would do it again if he could. Surely such a man, and others like him, deserve the death sentence? – [email protected]

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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