The death penalty – killing people who kill people, to show people that killing people is wrong. Get it? The death penalty, otherwise known as capital punishment, has long been the subject of intense debate.
As a government-sanctioned practice designed to put criminals to death as a punishment for their heinous crimes, no other subject has divided more administrations. Even those who have been pro-abortion have been anti-death penalty.
Capital offences, those historically worthy of death sentences and/or execution, include murder, treason, espionage, crimes against humanity, genocide, etc.
Etymologically, the term capital (of the head) is derived from the Latin capitalis from caput – head. In this context, it is alluded to execution by beheading.
Fifty-six countries have retained the death penalty, and as we’re all aware, South Africa isn’t one of them. With our crime rates off the charts and millions of taxpayer rands being blown on the rapists and murderers in our jails, some people have been actively vocal about it.
Bring Back The Death Penalty, they chant…
We take a look at the pros and cons of such a choice.
Protect yourself and your loved ones, get affordable insurance today.
Death Penalty In South Africa
Executions were traditionally carried out in the Pretoria Central Prison and those condemned to die were placed in a section of the prison known as The Pot.
Hanging, in South Africa, was the standard method of carrying out executions. Sometimes, several convicts were executed at the same time. In 1935, the mandatory death penalty for murder was abolished in South Africa. At this time, the vast bulk of culprits in capital cases were represented by the non-white majority.
After the instatement of a Republic in 1961, hanging remained. South Africa experienced intense international criticism against deliberate political executions of anti-apartheid activists convicted of violent crimes. Many of these were black people, but in some cases, such as Frederick John Harris in 1965, white people too.
The 1980s saw a speedy increase in executions. The hang-happy government executed 164 people in 1987 alone. This was higher than any other country, including Iran and China. Of the 2949 hangings performed since 1959, 1123 were in the 80s. 14 of these were women.
The last person to be executed by the South African government was Solomon Ngobeni, 14 November 1989. Ngobeni was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. Also convicted of murder, the last woman to be executed was Sandra Smith. She was hanged alongside her boyfriend, Yassiem Harris, earlier that year on the 2nd of June.
In February 1990, President FW De Klerk declared a moratorium, temporarily prohibiting the death sentence. By the ruling of the Constitutional Court, the death penalty in South Africa was declared as unconstitutional and completely abolished on the 6th of June 1995.
[caption id="attachment_30596" align="aligncenter" width="600"]
The Gallows of Pretoria Central Prison have since become a museum, open to the public.[/caption]
Death Penalty Around The World
More than 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty is retained. These include the United States, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Currently, all European countries, with the exception of Belarus, have abolished the death penalty. Other countries which no longer practice it include Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many African countries. Zambia and Botswana are among those which still perform it.
In the United States, some states have banned capital punishment for decades, while other states still actively use it today. Such as Texas. Of course.
In abolitionist countries such as South Africa, the debate is often revived by a spike in serious, violent crimes. This is often brought about by an increase in brutal murder or rape statistics, such as we experience each and every year. Even though this is the case pretty much everywhere in the world, few countries have brought the death penalty back.
In 2014, after the Peshawar school massacre, in which 132 students and 9 members of staff of the Army Public School and Degree College Peshawar were killed by Taliban terrorists, Pakistan lifted its six-year moratorium on executions. Since then, Pakistan has executed over 400 convicts.
Most recently, last year saw Turkey and the Philippines making moves to reinstate capital punishment.
Public opinion on the death penalty varies considerably by country and the crime in question.
In South Africa there is no escaping the attention and interest focussed on crime in our country. We are inundated with terrifying news every single day. The media feeds into our fears and insecurity, reminding us of how violent, lawless and savage the world beyond our burglar bars can get.
In response, we often hear the call for the death penalty to be reinstated.
In Favour Of Bringing Back The Death Penalty
Opinion polls in South Africa suggest significant public support for its reinstatement. A 2014 poll, for example, confirmed that 76% of millennium generation South Africans support re-introduction of the death penalty.
Some political parties also support bringing it back. These, according to Wikipedia, include the National Party South Africa, the African Christian Democratic Party, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the National Conservative Party of South Africa.
At face value, the death penalty is the most terrifying sentence any person could be given. It is widely believed that the mere threat of this would be effective in deterring criminals, more so than incarceration. This belief is widely supported by the fact that the most vile, merciless rapists and murderers often receive reduced sentences due to overcrowding in our prisons. The majority of released inmates then go on to commit further crime.
For some people, an unpopular suggestion often made is that a life in prison may be more comfortable than the lives they lead as free men on the outside. In this case, we may have created a system in which it benefits degenerates to continuously commit crime, and live off the tax payer.
It certainly has its champions. Dr Norman Mabasa is one example, who in 2012 was the Medical Chief of the South African Medical Association. After one of SA’s senior dermatologists, Dr John Moche, was gunned down five years ago, Mabasa advocated for the return of capital punishment.
"The number of people who die at the hands of criminals is higher than in countries embroiled in civil wars or natural disasters," he said. "Crime has become so bad that soon we are going to have to put burglar bars around our beds."
Kill with impunity, and you will be killed. That is the powerful message conveyed to criminals.
Against Bringing Back The Death Penalty
Murder, rape, common and indecent assault, street muggings, car hijackings, house break-ins, home invasions, pickpocketing, corrupt police, etc. The crimes themselves have come to epitomize our perceptions of South Africa. Are we safe? Are our children safe? Our loved ones?
“The most dangerous country in the world.”
“The rape capital of the world.”
We hear the like day in and day out, from the people we know, in the news and media, etc. The response is a call for the death penalty, for those guilty of hideous crimes to be hanged by their necks until dead. But perhaps, according to many people, this simply isn’t the right way forward.
The first thing to consider is that capital punishment is in direct conflict with the constitution. Next is that there seems to be no credible scientific evidence to support the idea that the death penalty actually deters criminal behaviour. Thirdly, how would we go about trusting an intensely corrupt government to use this power responsibly? The government of old certainly exploited it for their own selfish political gains, and why wouldn’t this one?
Some feel that to reinstate the death penalty would be to brutalize the whole of society. It implicates us all, as the government acts on our behalf, in the same kind of violence we want criminals to be executed for.
Maybe it’s time to admit the truth. We want the death penalty back because it makes us feel better, not because it solves a problem. It serves to satisfy our yearning for swift and merciless vengeance, but offers little long-term retributive value.
Prisons, though, as a form of deterrence and rehabilitation, are mostly counterproductive and ineffective. So, what is a lawless country to do?
Let us know your thoughts or ideas in the comments.
SAVE up to 30% on your car insurance today