Many people, among them representatives of church organisations, traditional leaders and activists drawn from civil society, last week braved the sweltering heat as they gathered and listened attentively to different speakers who took turns to deliver moving addresses.
The gathering, which took place in the capital, was to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty.
October 10 is set aside each year as a day to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and to raise awareness of the conditions and circumstances that affect prisoners on death row.
The day was first organised by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty in 2003.
This year’s commemorations were dedicated to women who risk being sentenced to death, those who have received the death sentence, including those who have already been executed.
Also, the commemorations were dedicated to women who have had their death sentences commuted.
During last week’s event, there were impassioned pleas for Zimbabwe to abolish capital punishment.
Petitions were signed.
Although calls to abolish the death penalty continue to grow with each passing day, the country has not executed any prisoner in the past 15 years.
So why would lobbyists continue to ratchet up pressure when the Government seems to be reluctant to execute condemned inmates?
Psychologist Dr Charles Doro said while those on death row are not being executed, this does not spare them the adverse psychological effects that come with being condemned.
“As you might be aware, Zimbabwe has not formally abolished the death penalty. As a result, prisoners on death row are still exposed to the horrors of awaiting execution. Being on death row for a long time can cause delusions, mental illnesses and can result in suicide,” he said.
Between 1980 and 2001, 76 people were hanged, while 84 inmates are currently on death row.
The Zimbabwe Coalition against the Death Penalty is pushing for the death penalty to be expeditiously scrapped from the country’s statutes.
Veritas Zimbabwe, an organisation that provides information on the work of the Parliament of Zimbabwe and periodically reviews the country’s laws, hosted an event that also raised awareness on the need to abolish the death sentence.
“The event will celebrate the life and dignity of all Zimbabweans and will encourage all Zimbabweans to think about what the death penalty means. We hope that this event will encourage all Zimbabweans to work for the total abolition of the death penalty,” read a post on the organisation’s website.
Amos Mhiribidi, a crime expert, said the death penalty serves no purpose as it does not deter heinous crimes.
“There is no evidence to cement the notion that the death penalty deters crime. Some countries retained the death sentence but there has been an increase in violent crime in these countries. Also, there is no proof to show that violent crimes are more prevalent in countries that scrapped capital punishment,” he said.
President Mnangagwa, who survived the hangman’s noose on a technicality before independence, is on record claiming the death penalty constitutes an affront to human dignity.
Traditional leaders are also against it. Chief Mangwende, (born Taaziwa Gatsi), said it was never part of Zimbabwe’s traditional culture.
“In my view, the death sentence must be abolished. It was never part of our culture. In our culture, if somebody commits murder, for example, that person would not be hanged but is forced to pay reparations to the victim’s family.”
Pastor Herifanos Chidyaka of the Jehovah Jireh Ministries said Christians were duty-bound to lobby for the removal of the death penalty.
“The Bible clearly states that one should not avenge and that we should forgive and forget. The death penalty is clearly against Biblical principles,” Pastor Chidyaka said.
In Zimbabwe, women, persons below 21 and above the age of 70 cannot be sentenced to death. This essentially means capital punishment can only be imposed on men between the ages of 21 and 70. However, all persons sentenced to death have the right to seek pardon from the President. In a paper titled “Why Zimbabwe Should Amend the Constitution to Abolish the Death Penalty”, lawyer Douglas Mwonzora called for an all-inclusive approach to have the death sentence abolished.
“The shift of attitude in both ruling and opposition quarters, alongside support from civil society organisations and traditional and religious leaders, provides a historic moment to build a strong cross-party coalition to amend the Constitution to abolish the death penalty,” he wrote.
US-based research, advocacy and training institute, the Cornell Centre on the Death Penalty Worldwide, estimates that there are at least 800 women sentenced to death around the world. At least seven countries – Ghana, Japan, Maldives, Taiwan, Thailand, USA, Zambia – are understood to have had a woman under the death sentence in 2020.
It is believed that the number is likely higher. In 2020, among the 483 individuals who were executed, 16 were women in countries such as Egypt, Iran, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
At least 108 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, 28 countries are abolitionists in practice while 55 countries are retentionist.
In 2020, the five countries that carried out the most executions were China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.