Zimbabwe has upheld the death penalty in the new Constitution, but recently appointed Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa is showing a willingness to do away with the provision.
Mnangagwa was put on death row in the 1960s after being convicted for treason during the liberation war, but he escaped the gallows due to what he said was an "age technicality".
Last week, at Amnesty International's event to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty, Mnangagwa said that with the advent of the new Constitution, there was no doubt about what direction the country was taking with regard to executions.
"Zimbabweans spoke their mind through the new charter, which now reserves the penalty for those persons convicted only of murder in aggravating circumstances," Mnangagwa said.
According to the new Constitution, people younger than 21 and older than 70 at the time of conviction cannot be sentenced to death.
Mnangagwa said this represents a positive development in the government's efforts to eventually remove the death penalty, adding that though a new hangman was hired this year "it does not signify a step backwards but a fulfilment of the legal requirements". The hangman's post became vacant in 2005.
Moratorium on executions
"I believe that our justice system must rid itself of this odious and obnoxious provision. The mental torture [for inmates] occasioned by the mere knowledge that it is all over, coupled with the experience of being treated as the ‘scum' of society, brings utter hopelessness and despair," Mnangagwa said.
Information obtained by the Mail & Guardian from the ministry of justice and legal affairs and Amnesty International shows that 87 men and two women are on death row.
Most were convicted of murder in the course of robbery where no extenuating circumstances were found.
Cousin Zilala, the executive director of Amnesty International Zimbabwe, has encouraged the government to declare an immediate moratorium on executions, saying that an opportunity was missed in the recent Constitution-drafting process to abolish the provision.
According to Amnesty International, 76 people have been executed in Zimbabwe since 1980 and 244 people, who were sentenced to death during the same period, had their sentences commuted to life terms or overturned by the Supreme Court.
Most members of the Southern African Development Community, including Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa have abolished the death penalty.
Zimbabwe last carried out executions in 2004 – Edmund Masendeke and Stephen Chidhumo were convicted of murder, rape and armed robbery.