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October 10: International Day Against the Death Penalty

Nearly ten years after the ending of the death penalty in South Africa, sixty-three prisoners remain technically under sentence of death, although the death penalty was finally abolished in South Africa in the 1995 Makwanyane Constitutional Court ruling which forbad the state to ?to execute any person already sentenced to death? and provided for them to remain in custody until such sentences had been set aside in accordance with law and substituted by lawful punishments.?

 

Nearly ten years after the ending of the death penalty in South Africa, sixty-three prisoners remain technically under sentence of death, although the death penalty was finally abolished in South Africa in the 1995 Makwanyane Constitutional Court ruling which forbad the state to ?to execute any person already sentenced to death? and provided for them to remain in custody until such sentences had been set aside in accordance with law and substituted by lawful punishments.?

The achievement of the abolition of the death penalty in South Africa was the culmination of many years of campaigning against the death penalty as cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, which has disproportionately affected those of lower socio-economic status and conditions across the world.

In 1988 at the initiation of the Campaign against the Death Penalty, South Africa had the dubious reputation as the country that had the highest rate of executions in the world. Before 1988, Iran was the only country that executed more people than South Africa. In South African law, the death penalty was obligatory for murders without extenuating circumstances and discretionary for a range of other crimes including rape, robbery and housebreaking with aggravating circumstances, sabotage, kidnapping or child stealing, terrorism and treason.

While present-day public discourse calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty as an appropriate punishment for a range of crimes, it does not acknowledge how the state execution of criminals brutalises all who are involved in these atrocious acts of killing without any evidence of the death penalty acting as a deterrent to the committing of a crime.

As the membership group of survivors of apartheid human rights violations, Khulumani Support Group, amongst whose members are those who were reprieved in cases argued on the principle of ?common purpose?, calls on the Department of Justice to finally clarify the legal status of prisoners under sentence of death as a matter of urgency. The untenable limbo situation in which these prisoners find themselves, is not of their own making and demands the implementation of administrative justice.

Khulumani Support Group also joins the struggle for the abolition of the death penalty across the African continent. We welcome the fact that 12 countries have to date abolished the death penalty and that another 20 countries have not executed any individual for the past ten years. Khulumani stands with other abolitionist countries in declaring that ?killing a person who has killed a person, cannot teach anyone that killing people is wrong." (Ann Colvin)

Issued by Dr Marjorie Jobson, Chairperson, Khulumani Support Group Board of Directors
3rd Floor Heerengracht Building, 87 de Korte Street, Braamfontein 2017
Tel: (011) 403 4098

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