Death knell sounds for death penalty

CityPress - - Business - Muzi Kuzwayo busi­ness@ city­press. co. za

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,

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