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ZIMBABWE: The impossible search for a Hangman 0

For over four years now, Tendai Dzingirai * has lived each day afraid that it may be his last. Dzingirai is one of almost 60 inmates on death row in Zimbabwe’s prisons. But like the other prisoners, Dzingirai does not know when he will finally meet his fate – especially since the country has not had an executioner for the last six years.

Since 2005, when the country’s last hangman retired, there has been a moratorium on executions as the country is still searching for a replacement.

“For this matter we are waiting for a proper directive from cabinet. There is currently a moratorium on the death penalty since the matter is before cabinet,” said the country’s deputy minister of justice Obert Gutu.

And it may be a long time before one is found as Zimbabweans shun the job because of superstition and cultural reasons.

According to Gutu, Zimbabweans mostly look down on the hangman’s job since it entails the “murdering” of people, which most locals believe brings “evil spirits” to the hangman and his family.

“In the African culture, a job that entails the killing of another human being is not considered a job at all. It is looked at with contempt and superstition, mostly because as Africans we believe that if one kills another human being the spirit of that person will return to torment its killer and his family.”

He added that a majority of Zimbabweans, like himself, did not believe in the death penalty.

“To the best of my knowledge I am not sure when (a hangman) will be engaged. I don’t know whether the process is in motion, but I know there is currently no hangman. Ordinary Zimbabweans are not comfortable with the death penalty.”

Gutu castigated the death penalty describing it as a primitive and inhumane form of punishment that should not be on the statute books of any civilised and progressive country.

“My own suggestion is that all people on death row should have their sentences immediately commuted to life imprisonment. It is psychologically traumatic and inhumane to keep people on death row perpetually,” Gutu said.

Gutu said his ministry has been advertising the job since 2005 and not many people have expressed an interest in applying.

Like any other civil service job, the monthly salary is pegged at around a paltry 300 dollars. The job is reserved for men only and the identity of the person will remain a closely guarded secret.

In one of the advertisements by the ministry of justice, requirements for the job include dexterity in tying a knot and a cold-hearted person. Anyone prone to mercy or hesitation is instructed not to apply.

The hangman will be stationed at the Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare and is warned that his work will have no routine. On any given day he could be required to execute between two to four prisoners. But months and even a year could pass before another hanging.

“It’s not a job one can openly talk about, it’s a gory job only those deemed evil and cursed can ever want to do. Culturally, people shun the spilling of human blood, whether the victim is guilty or innocent,” Gutu said.

Pedzisai Ruhanya, a human rights academic and programs manager for Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe, said the country had to do away with the death penalty.

“If the state does not allow citizens to kill each other so what right does the state have to kill its people? The death penalty is out dated…”

Ruhanya paid tribute to Zimbabweans for shunning the hangman’s job adding that it was a deplorable job no man should do.

“Only the devil himself can do that job – not a normal human being. After all the hangman is paid peanuts like the rest of civil servants. Is 300 dollars (a month) enough for one to kill people for? Never. Zimbabweans should refuse to take up this job.”

Zimbabwe’s last hangman is said to be struggling with his conscience and claims to have regretted his job.

Many Zimbabweans interviewed by IPS said they could not image doing the job.

Petros Kamujarira, who earns a living repairing people’s shoes, said he preferred to die poor rather than be employed as an executioner.

“In my family from my ancestors they was never a murderer so why should I be the first one to bring evil spirits into the family? Never will I ever do it. It’s against the Lord and our spirit mediums even if you have the blessings of the country’s laws. It’s still wrong and it will bring bad luck through evil spirits into the family,” he told IPS.

“I am not so sure if I want to have such a job which only entails killing people. What would my wife, children and relatives think of me knowing that when I leave home daily for work I will be going to kill someone else’s mother, father, brother or sister?” said John Mapapu who earns a living as a vegetable vendor in one of Harare’s high density suburbs.

Reverend Julius Zimbudzana from the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe said Zimbabweans were holy people and that is why the position was still vacant.

*Name has been changed.

By Tariro Madzongwe – IPS Africa

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi