Moving away from the death penalty in Zimbabwe - has the time come for change?

 Moving away from the death penalty in Zimbabwe - has the time come for change?
Published: 24 May 2018 (117 Views)
Zimbabwe has shown itself ready to embrace change in recent months but would that extend to abolition of the death penalty? The findings of a new public opinion survey suggest that this might be the case, opening up the debate on abolition of the death penalty.

The death penalty has been a contentious issue in Zimbabwe and in an effort to find out what the public think, we commissioned a leading criminologist, Dr Mai Sato to carry out a nationwide public opinion survey. The report was launched in Harare this week and the results presented (and captured in ">this short video) were surprising.

While a majority of Zimbabweans continue to support the death penalty, support was not particularly strong. Only 41% thought that Zimbabwe should 'definitely' keep the death penalty, with 20% feeling that it should ‘probably’ be kept - a combined total of no more than 61%. The report also identified that public opinion, whether it was in favour of retention or abolition, was, in general, not very informed or based on deep knowledge of the subject matter. Of those surveyed, 83% were not aware that Zimbabwe had not carried out any executions for over a decade.

When exploring the reasons behind support for the death penalty, it was striking that the “eye for an eye" argument did not hold much traction with the Zimbabwean public. Only 14% of retentionists supported the death penalty for retributive reasons, whereas similar studies conducted in Ghana, Trinidad and other countries have found this to be one of the most popular arguments in favour of the death penalty. Nor did the public think that the death penalty was an effective criminal justice policy, with 92% of Zimbabweans favouring policies other than “more executions” for reducing violent crime rates.

Most Zimbabweans accepted that there should be strict limits on capital punishment and were reluctant to impose the death penalty when presented with different case scenarios. Ultimately, 80% of those in favour of the death penalty would be willing to accept abolition if it became government policy.

Around the death penalty is dying out. More than two-thirds of the world’s nations have now abolished capital punishment in law or in practice. In 2017, executions were carried out in just 23 countries and there was a global decline in the number of people sentenced to death. In sub-Saharan Africa, the trend towards abolition is especially pronounced. Only two countries in the region carried out executions in 2017 - Somalia and South Sudan - and in recent years Guinea, Benin, Madagascar and the Republic of the Congo all abolished the death penalty. Of the countries that neighbour Zimbabwe, only Botswana has executed anybody in the last few years.

While Zimbabwe continues to retain the death penalty, there has been some positive progress towards abolition. An unofficial moratorium on executions is in place and in 2013 the new constitution gave full discretion to judges to consider whether the death penalty should be imposed in any given case. The last execution in Zimbabwe was carried out in 2005 – some 12 years ago.

What then is preventing Zimbabwe from joining the rest of the world’s nations who have abolished the death penalty? In this context it is important to gauge public opinion. Frequently we are told that, whilst personally many key stakeholders are in favour of abolition, strong public support for the death penalty will not allow for change. But is the Zimbabwean public more averse to moving forward than other nations which have successfully abolished the death penalty?

The survey findings show that, while on the surface public support for capital punishment might appear strong, this is not the whole picture. Attitudes towards the death penalty tend to be highly qualified; where people sit on the issue will vary according to different assumptions, information and situations. When faced with the reality of typical case scenarios or the possibility of wrongful convictions, we often find that support for the death penalty wavers. Moreover, attitudes towards the death penalty are frequently misinformed and based on a limited understanding of the issues. Going beyond the simple question of support or opposition to capital punishment, this research sheds light on the nuanced and complex views of Zimbabweans towards the death penalty.

At the launch of the report in Harare, guests included not only the media but prominent parliamentarians and other key stakeholders. There appeared to be broad political agreement that abolition was desirable and achievable in the short term. The findings of the report served to underline the view that the public would accept such change.

Ultimately, abolition of the death penalty is a political decision requiring leadership. That is not to marginalise the importance of public views but rather to accept that public opinion should be sought to inform the debate on capital punishment, but not lead it.

This research, we believe, shows the Zimbabwean public is ready to accept change, but that this change must be explained. We hope that the findings will encourage us all to question assumptions made about public views and help to open the debate on the future of capital punishment in Zimbabwe.

Parvais Jabbar is Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project, an international legal action charity based in London, UK. Val Ingham-Thorpe is Director of Zimbabwean NGO Veritas.

- Parvais Jabbar

 0

You May Like These Videos

Comments

There are no comments.

Latest stories

MDC dismisses Party Spokesperson

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 316 Views

MDC Founding Member calls upcoming elections fair and reasonable

by Knowledge Moyo | 19 June 2018 | 237 Views

You are Zimbabwean because Zapu said so

by Ryton Dzimiri | 19 June 2018 | 177 Views

Wining Zanu PF candidate vows to stand as an Independent

by A Mhlongo | 19 June 2018 | 334 Views

Chamisa says Mnangagwa want to kill him

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 362 Views

Looking for Pythias Makonese, please get in touch

by Ignatius Mabasa | 19 June 2018 | 145 Views

Zimbabwean immigrant appointed new senator in Canada

by Agencies | 19 June 2018 | 246 Views

Mnangagwa's lies exposed

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 328 Views

WATCH: CCTV sells out POS machine suspected thieves

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 187 Views

Zimbabwean gangster jailed 24 years in UK

by Agencies | 19 June 2018 | 200 Views

Mnangagwa challenges ZCDC

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 180 Views

Why digital money makes sense

by Nick Mangwana | 19 June 2018 | 141 Views

RBZ told to 'delegate forex allocation to banks'

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 162 Views

Govt sets aside $150m for Command Housing

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 172 Views

Zamalek table Khama Billiat offer

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 194 Views

UK embassy exposes MDC Alliance

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 243 Views

Chamisa unfit to lead Zimbabwe says Mangoma

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 201 Views

Adoption of MDC-T by Dr Khupe was 'mischievous'

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 192 Views

Police ban dangerous weapons

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 144 Views

'Call me Zodwa Wabantwana'

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 222 Views

Chamisa can't withdraw Alliance candidates says Welshman Ncube

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 187 Views

Mnangagwa heads to Mashonaland Central

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 146 Views

No load shedding, says Zesa

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 118 Views

Year-on-year inflation remains constant at 2.71%

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 129 Views

Zec says polls can't be stopped

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 115 Views

Zec to unveil ballot printing company

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 128 Views

Woman kills, dumps newborn

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 135 Views

Chamisa swallows Dabengwa

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 236 Views

12 years jail for church burglar

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 111 Views

Pregnancy storm after teens' incest

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 148 Views

FreeZim wins t-shirts wrangle with ZRP

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 87 Views

'Mugabe was told of missing diamonds'

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 109 Views

Calls for Kasukuwere's arrest

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 96 Views

Mujuru speaks on national healing

by Staff reporter | 19 June 2018 | 71 Views