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South Africans Debate the Death Penalty Amid Rise in Gender-Based Violence

South African lawmakers have no appetite to restore the death penalty, despite growing calls globally for the reinstatement of capital punishment as a crime deterrent.

According to Joint Constitutional Review Committee Chairperson Enock Mthethwa, this was not a straightforward matter, since no research had been conducted to prove that the death penalty was an effective deterrent that may curb crime rates, the Johannesburg-based Sunday Independent reported on Dec. 20.

Mthethwa made the comment during a virtual meeting of the review committee comprised in the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces, which annually reviews the Constitution.

The committee which met on Nov. 27, 2020, was responding to a call from Waseela Jardine, a member of the public, who asked the committee to review section 11 of the Constitution in order to provide for the death penalty.

In her submission, Jardine said a return of capital punishment would reduce the number of senseless murders and rapes, and added that it was unfair for murderers and rapists to relax in jail and secure parole for good behavior, when considering the number of women and children that are being sexually molested.

Despite a global move that seeks alternatives to prison sentences, an increasing number of countries are calling for the reinstatement of capital punishment as a crime deterrent, according to the 2020 Global Prison Trends report. More than 20 000 people are detained on death row worldwide, living in inhumane detention conditions and often following unfair trials, said the report, published by Penal Reform International (PRI) and the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ).

Capital punishment was abolished in South Africa on June 6, 1995, by a ruling of the Constitutional Court.

ANC MP Nxola Nqola added that the matter of the death penalty had been in the public discussion for quite some time, in relation to the rise of gender-based violence (GBV).

But, Nqola opined that the discussion was precisely on the legal prescripts; it was more of an emotional response, because society was angry about GBV.

Since South Africa has a history of bloodshed, the restoration of the death penalty has been used as a reactionary response to a movement by people of South Africa. He expressed doubt and dissent that the reinstitution of the death penalty would be in line with the spirit of the Constitution.

Wounds must be healed. Therefore, he did not agree with the submission that the committee must review section 11 of the Constitution and reinstate the death penalty.

“It was a reactionary type of conduct,” Nqola said. “The South African Government must not be associated with killing people in response to whatever had been done. We must not give up on our people such that we kill them as the state.”

He wished to convince the committee not to agree with that submission. At adjournment, the committee resolved to search for an alternative to the death penalty.

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