Death knell sounds for death penalty
Granted, there is still a long way to go, but one thing is certain, the murder industry is slowly going out of business. Last year was particularly difficult for the formalised sector.
I remember the day a man we knew only as “Idian” was to hang at Pretoria Central Prison. He was a notorious thug turned policeman or policeman turned thug, depending on your view, but he was also a family man. I was once shown his home, and it struck me as an exceptionally clean yard that was unwelcoming to children. No toys strewn in the garden, no wire cars, no bicycles, no balls, no life – only a mysterious but apparently kind widow who lived there in solitude.
No one describes the events at the prison more grimly than Hugh Lewin in his book Bandiet. As a political prisoner, the authorities made sure that he had a front-row seat.
Thankfully, the death penalty is no longer in South Africa.
“Having concluded that capital punishment is inconsistent with section 9 of the Constitution and cannot be saved by section 33(1), I find it unnecessary to consider its possible inconsistency with any other fundamental rights protected by chapter three,” wrote the late Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson in his judgment against the death penalty.
There are enough bloodthirsty regimes around the world that still use the death penalty as a political tool to show their opponents that they have total control. Some governments revel in public hangings or beheadings, which is the ultimate show of unfettered power.
In the US, execution by lethal injection replaced the gas chamber and electric chair because the latter were deemed to be “cruel and unusual punishment”. The state of Utah still uses the firing squad as a method of execution.
The lethal injection is basically a three-drug cocktail manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. The first of the three is sodium thiopental, which reaches the brain in half a minute and, 15 seconds later, the condemned is supposed to be unconscious.
The next one is more of a public relations drug, pancuronium bromide, which relaxes the muscles so the witnesses and the media don’t have to see the last, violent kicks of the dying man or woman. Potassium chloride is administered last and stops the heart from beating.
When the American manufacturer of the key ingredient, thiopental, stopped making the drug, the US prison authorities looked to India and Europe to supply them. The European Union banned the export of such drugs, and the Indian manufacturers refused to let their products be used to kill people. So the jailers were left to tinker and make their own untested concoctions.
Last year, before Clayton Lockett was executed, his lawyer told him: “Tell us everything that’s happening to you.” Ten minutes after the execution started, the prison official instructed the doctor to check if the condemned was dead. “Mr Locket is not unconscious,” he reported. “I’m not,” Locket confirmed. A journalist from AP, Bailey Elise McBride, who was following the execution, tweeted: “Lockett began to nod, mumble move body.”
The doctor in the room wanted to help finish him off, but remembered his Hippocratic oath and tried to stop the execution and take Lockett to hospital. It was too late. Lockett died of cardiac arrest an hour later. Then there was a moratorium on execution by lethal injection. Now the US is looking at bringing back the electric chair. It’s a dirty business, and no one’s got to do it. Kuzwayo is founder of Ignitive,
an advertising agency