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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

Calls for the death penalty intensify… but is it an option?

As a nationwide outcry over gender-based violence grows, calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty for perpetrators are multiplying.

Despite increased calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty after a spate of killings of women, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola won’t back it “because it was found to be unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court”.

Asked whether Cabinet would be willing to declare a referendum on it, Lamola said: “I can’t speak for Cabinet and I can’t stop people from the debate, but the death penalty was found to be unconstitutional”.

More and more organisations and political parties are joining the call for government to bring back capital punishment in the light of the escalating violence against women, children and the elderly.

Some called for special prisons to lock up perpetrators of gender-based violence, while others demanded that the abusers be subjected to chemical castration.

The ruling ANC’s official stance has been to oppose the death penalty and the party previously refused to entertain any suggestion for it to be reinstituted. That the party was prepared to entertain the matter now set tongues wagging.

Lamola was previously reported to have said he could not decide alone about whether or not the death penalty should be reinstated.

“Whether we are open to referendum or not, at this stage I cannot say… It is something we can take further as a discussion to the Cabinet,” he said.

The recent killing of University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana and the kidnapping of young children for ransom sparked a nationwide outcry and calls for the penalty to be brought back.

Leading the charge for the return of the death penalty was civil society organisation Peace Movement and the African Transformation Movement (ATM).

The Peace Movement gathered 500,000 signatures as part of a petition to be presented to authorities to consider holding a referendum to restore the punishment after the ongoing gender-based violence.

ATM president Vuyo Zungula has asked National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise to appoint an ad hoc committee to look into the matter.

Zungula also wrote an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa requesting him to invoke his powers provided in section 84.2(g) of the Constitution to call a referendum on the death penalty, which the party called “justice-based capital punishment”.

In the letter, Zungula said his party held a firm view that a very strong message needed to be sent to all the murderers and rapists that the country would not tolerate this kind of abhorrent behaviour.

“The right to life, enshrined in the constitution, cannot be the sole preserve of murderers and rapists, the constitution must be strengthened to protect innocent lives. The constitution cannot be the refuge for murderers and rapists,” Zungula said.

The ATM leader asked Modise to task the parliamentary constitutional review committee to initiate public hearings.

“We are hoping that this process will culminate into a referendum and we have already requested the president of the republic to consider such,” Zungula said.

Amnesty International recorded at least 690 executions in 20 countries in 2018 globally, down by 31% from 2017 (at least 993 executions). The agency said at least 2,531 death sentences were imposed in 54 countries in 2018. At least 19,336 people were known to be under sentence of death globally last year.


Countries carrying out executions in 2018:

  • Organisation of American States: 1 out of 35 countries carried out executions – the US.
  • Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe: 2 out of 57 countries executed people – Belarus.
  • African Union: 5 out of 55 countries carried out executions – Botswana, Egypt, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.
  • League of Arab States: 6 out of 22 countries – Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations: 3 out of 10 – Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Commonwealth: 3 out of 53 – Botswana, Pakistan and Singapore. – Source: Amnesty International

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