/ 16 December 2011

Zuma decries death penalty

Zuma Decries Death Penalty

There is no credible evidence to prove that re-introducing the death penalty in South Africa will reduce crime, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.

“I do not think there is justice in killing another human being,” he said at the official opening of the revived Gallows Memorial at the Pretoria Central Prison.

“Quite often I hear commentators saying bring back the death penalty to combat crime. Our Constitution prioritises the right to life and dignity, and the good judges did well to abolish it.”

He said those advocating capital punishment did not understand how it felt to be on death row. South Africa did not need to kill people to prove crime was wrong, he said.

“We can be tough on crime without executing people. Our police will continue to use effective methods to make our communities safer.”

He assured the families of the political prisoners who were executed that government would make contact with them “to look at the difficulties they are facing”.

Two members from each of the slain prisoners’ families had been brought to Pretoria to take part in a two-day “cleansing” ceremony, which began on Wednesday.

Sacrificed lives
Zuma said all South Africans had contributed to the attainment of freedom and many lives had been sacrificed in the process.

The gallows at the prison, now known as the C Max Correctional Centre, was dismantled in 1996. The memorial museum was erected to honour 134 political prisoners executed there during apartheid.

Zuma, accompanied by several government ministers and ANC leaders, walked the 52 steps leading to the execution chamber, where he was briefed by Correctional Services commissioner Tom Moyane.

Moyane said 4 300 people went through the hangman’s noose, the majority of them common law criminals.

Said Zuma: “We hope this occasion contributes to bring closure and healing to the families [of the executed prisoners]. They should remember that their beloved ones made huge sacrifices for the country.”

He paid tribute to the prison warders who served in the gallows, saying they were abused by the apartheid system.

“I want to recognise the prison warders who worked in the execution room, some of whom I’m told were recruited at tender ages of 16 and 17. We all need to walk the path of healing together.”

Zuma was happy that some of them were still employed by correctional services and willing to share their experiences.

Healing process
“Government will assist the officers in the healing process,” he said.

Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the project had to be done despite the financial cost, which could not be disclosed.

“The TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] did not give an opportunity to the families of those who were executed to speak out,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

“Even those who were executed did not speak for themselves, they were silenced.”

She said interactive mechanisms, including a Facebook page and a website would soon be launched for the museum. Mapisa-Nqakula encouraged South Africans to visit the centre to understand the history and acknowledge how the museum played a role in the country’s healing process.

The museum would open next year.

She said the operations of the museum at the prison would not compromise security, and the museum would have a separate entrance.

The presidential entourage visited the chapel, execution room, autopsy room and fridge room. — Sapa