Death penalty abolition gathers momentum

Lovemore Majaranji was sentenced to death in 2004 after he had murdered three members of the same family in Gokwe’s Chief Sai area.

Amnesty International Zimbabwe  spokesperson, Cousin Zilala.
Amnesty International Zimbabwe spokesperson, Cousin Zilala.

When he committed the crime he was moving around Gokwe pretending to be a traditional healer who could exorcise evil spirits. He would camp at the homesteads of his clients and investigate where they kept their money.

At this particular family he stayed for three days trying to steal the money. He had seen where it was being kept. When he failed to steal it he killed the three family members , took the money and disappeared.

He was later tracked down, arrested and sentenced to death. Since then he has been living in single cell at Chikurubi Maximum Prison where prisoners on death row await execution.

Every time he hears the footsteps of prison guards in the corridors Majaranji thinks the hangman is coming for him.

“I wish they could have killed me when they convicted me because since then I have had no rest. Being on the death row is torture. It traumatises me, because I am always thinking that I could die any time and this causes psychological stress,” he said during a recent prison tour that followed the riot by prisoners at Chikurubi.

He said he had heard from the prison authorities that the country’s new constitution provided for pardon for inmates on death row and hopes that one day he might get out of jail.

“I am told by officers that we now have a constitution which does not allow executions. But what I want to know is whether we are going to be considered, or are we going to be pardoned?” he asked eagerly.

The new constitution, adopted almost two years ago now, excludes women from the death penalty. It also exempts males under the age of 21 and those over 70. Zimbabwe last had executions in 2005 and since then has not executed any prisoners.

According to Amnesty International Zimbabwe there are 95 prisoners currently on death row. The spokesperson, Cousin Zilala, said “We recorded 10 death sentences in 2014 although there were no executions carried out. Among the 95 inmates who are on the death row there is one foreign national from Mozambique, a male adult aged 27”.

Defacto abolitionist

Zilala said by not executing prisoners for 10 years now it means that the country is defacto death penalty abolitionist

Zilala, whose organisation has been lobbying government for the total abolition of the death penalty, said they were going to host a big event commemorating the country’s defacto death penalty abolitionist status so as to encourage government to cancel the death penalty from the statute books.

“In July we are planning to have a big event to commemorate Zimbabwe’s defacto abolitionist status as we campaign for complete abolition in Zimbabwe,” said Zilala. “We also intend to take human rights education to government, political parties, all policy making bodies and the general public.”

Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa ,himself a survivor of the death penalty during the liberation struggle, recently said he was not going to sign any more death penalty warrants.

Simeon Mawanza, the Amnesty International specialist for Southern Africa, said they had been promised that Mnangagwa would be part of their July event.

“We have been engaging the government of Zimbabwe since 2009. We decided so to take a cross party approach so that the death penalty does not come a victim of inter-party competitions. We want all parties to commit to abolition.

“We have done so through engaging all parties and targeting key government actors. There is a broad movement of people, including parliamentarians, who have openly supported across the political divide the call by Amnesty for the abolition of the death penalty,” said Mawanza.

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Post published in: Human Rights

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