Should the death sentence be brought back to the justice system ?

by Thando Mgobhozi

2 September 2019, we woke up to the sad and shocking news of UCT’s student Uyinene Mrwetyana’s death. Uyinene’s pictures were all over social media posted by friends and family asking for help for her to be found after they reported her missing. A 40-year-old man who is an employee of the Post Office in Claremont, Capetown was arrested in connection to her death. He admitted to raping her and dumping her body. He later led the police to the place where he dumped her body. What a way to start the month of September.

Uyinene was said to have visited the Post Office on Saturday to fetch a parcel and little did her friends and family know that it would be the last time they see her alive. Uyinene (19) was a first-year student at the University Of Capetown (UCT) and had a bright future ahead of her only for it to be cut short by a man who had absolutely no reason to do what he did to her. This is the very sad and true reality of many young women and children in South Africa. Every day, thousands of women’s lives are taken away either by their loved ones or strangers. Stories we hear about and those we so often don’t hear about.

Residents of Khayelitsha later visited Uyinene’s killer’s house and set it alight. There were remains of bodies found buried in his backyard which are believed to be those of his late wife and four other bodies. The man shows no remorse whatsoever for his actions as he was quoted saying, “undisokolisile lona,” meaning she gave me a hard time referring to Uyinene. The man has a proven criminal record and has been involved in a murder case before but still managed to get a job a the Post Office which is very strange.

In April 2017, we were just as shocked to find out about the ruthless killing of Karabo Mokoena who was killed by her then-boyfriend Sandile Mantsoe. Karabo who was only 22 years old at that time was stabbed by Sandile who then proceeded to burn her body beyond recognition. After that day, women all over the country feared for their lives and their safety. This fear has been activated again after Uyinene’s death and even though we seemed to have moved on and forgotten about Karabo’s death, truth is many women have lost their lives daily after Karabo’s life was taken away. These are the stories that do not make it to mainstream media but all lives matter and everyone deserves justice. The Government should have taken action a long time ago and not wait for another story on social media about a beautiful girl who has been murdered to pay attention to the crisis that we have faced for a long time.

Gender-based violence (GBV) has increased at an alarming rate since 2016. 39 633 rapes and 6 253 sexual assaults were reported in South Africa in 2017. A movement on social media called the #AmINext has since been making rounds as women fear they could be the next victims of gender-based violence and many women have found the courage to come out about their stories of abuse and sexual assault from men. The results of these stories have since created a lot of controversies as there were many faces in the public eye that made it on this list. No one is above the law and you cannot hide behind being a celebrity. This just goes to show that anyone is capable of defeating the ends of justice. Every single day without failure we hear about stories of women and children missing or found dead and you can’t help but wonder if it will ever stop. Just this week a man was arrested because he killed all his four children by hanging them in the family home. The children were from age 4 to 16. Ayakha Jiyane was the eldest daughter but was not the man’s biological child was found in a bush near New Germany hanging from a tree. Xolile Jiyane is the mother of the four children who were killed by this man. The couple is married but is said to be going through a divorce when the man committed this crime.

The Government was weirdly quiet about the recent events that have been happening and the public have been calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to take action and do something about this national crisis. Universities around the country have since held at night vigil to remember Uyinene and other women have lost their lives because of gender-based violence. Students also marched to Parliament on Thursday fighting against gender-based violence. It was only then where President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed protestors about the issue at hand. He said measures were being put in place so that men who rape and kill women will not be granted bail and given parole but never mentioned anything about the death sentence.

Since Uyinene’s death, a petition has been making rounds on social media for people to sign for the death penalty to be brought back and over 300 000 South Africans have already signed the petition. Now the big question is whether it should really be brought back. I personally have never believed in the death penalty because no one, not even the law deserves to take away people’s lives in whatever way but also I know you’re thinking but all these men who kill women have no authority whatsoever to do so, so who is to say they shouldn’t be killed when they kill right?

Capital punishment was abolished on 6 June 1995 in South Africa. The president mentioned earlier this year that it is not the place of the state to take life and was quoted saying, “our constitution has enshrined the right to life. This means that the state should not be the one to terminate a life. The surge in criminality should be addressed in other ways rather than ending people’s lives,” Ramaphosa said. Many constitutional law experts also agree with President Cyril Ramaphosa. One particular constitutional law expert, Pierre De Vos said, “to endorse the death penalty is to endorse state violence and the brutality that necessarily forms part of the premeditating killing. The death penalty thus brutalizes the whole of society and implicates us all in the kind of violence that we wish perpetrators to be punished for.”

The decision to abolish capital punishment was not only a decision made by the government but it is deeply rooted in law. This follows a dark past of using the punishment in the country and South Africa had one of the highest rates of execution globally at some point. Solomon Ngobeni was the last person to be executed after he was found guilty of shooting and robbing driver Mackson Kubayi. Other reasons for abolishing capital punishment is that there could be errors during the investigation process which could lead to the wrong people being punished for a crime they did not commit eg, the 5 central kids who were falsely accused of rape.

The death sentence is unconstitutional and does not follow the constitution of South Africa. However, there are political parties such as the IFP who strongly believe that it should be brought back. I know that this is not what all those 300 000 people who signed the petition want to hear and I hate to break it to them, but the death penalty will not be brought back anytime soon. This is a crisis and we can only hope that the government will attend this matter with urgency.

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