Wanted: Hangman for Zim inmates

2010-04-15 22:24

Harare - Wanted: A hangman. High school education required. No experience necessary.

Zimbabwe's last executioner retired after carrying out his last job in 2004. The departure of the hangman, who was said to be struggling with his conscience, leaves about 50 inmates on death row at Chikurubi maximum security prison outside Harare.

Zimbabwe's government has learned that finding a replacement is not all that easy and, according to a prisoners' advocacy group, it has even prepared a wanted ad to help its search.

Meanwhile, calls for abolition of the death penalty have gained steam.

Earlier this month, inmate Shepherd Mazango won the support of human rights groups to appeal his death sentence and demand the abolition of the death penalty in the Supreme Court, the nation's highest tribunal.

"God knows when I am going to be executed. I am anxious about this every day," Mazango, who was convicted of murder in 2002, wrote in a recent court deposition.

He said he and some others on death row feel they are losing their minds.

Remorseful about job

Zimbabwe's last hangman, said to have been a former Zambian police officer, left after his contract with the prisons service and justice ministry expired. A former top prison officer told The Daily News, a local daily, that the executioner was always extremely remorseful about his job.

His workplace was inside the Harare Central Remand prison, 20km from Chikurubi.

The gallows are said to be of scaffolding and wood and appear to date from the pre-independence era.

Records show a total of 78 people have been executed in Zimbabwe since the African country won independence from Britain in 1980.

Work for the hangman was spotty. On some days he would execute between two and four prisoners at dawn then months would pass before other hangings were carried out.

The former executioner's identity has not been revealed and he hasn't been heard from since he left, said Edson Chiota, who heads a group that campaigns against capital punishment.

The government has prepared notices and an advertisement offering employment for a part-time hangman which have yet to be published, said Chiota, of the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender.

Extra training

The job requires only a high school education but extra training would seem in order since studies have shown execution by hanging involves knowledge of body weight, human physiology, ropes, knots and basic mechanics.

"No such job should be in existence," Chiota said.

Executions were suspended for a decade after President Robert Mugabe met with Pope John Paul II in 1988. During the moratorium, scores of inmates' death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment on humanitarian grounds.

The Movement for Democratic Change, a party now sharing power with Mugabe's Zanu-PF, opposes executions and may try to have them abolished in a new constitution that Zimbabweans are preparing to negotiate.

Read more on:    zimbabwe  |  southern africa


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