Boemo Delano Phirinyane
The execution of Patrick Gabaakanye on Wednesday 25th May seems to have reignited the long standing debate on the continued use of capital punishment. The European Union and Human Rights groups expressed massive discontent towards this decision by the Government of Botswana. Though this lash out wasn’t only specific to the case of Raselepe, they are still on a campaign to lobby states like Botswana, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia amongst other which still approve of and use this method of punishment to reconsider its use.
In this article we look at why these countries should not succumb to the pressure by the European Union, Human Rights groups and anyone who shares their sentiments on the abolition of the death penalty, hence in defense of the hangman.
At the core of arguments which advocate for the cessation of capital punishment is the horrifying fact that they seek to portray the murderer as a vulnerable victim which the state keeps on using as a means to an end to teach that it’s not moral and right to kill.
Firstly they argue that the death penalty is inhumane and strips the death row candidate of his dignity. Perhaps it’s crucial before we unfairly prejudice the Hangman that we look at the actions of the murderer and how they clearly show disregard for the humanity and dignity of the innocent who they kill. Once a man has initiated force against an innocent person, he has in effect declared that he does not live by the principle of individual rights. He does not wish to live amongst men as a rational being, but a predator, to the detriment and destruction of all those around him. Rights stem from man’s nature as a rational being, and a man living irrationally has no rights. It is not only prudent for a society to destroy such a harmful animal, but is an act of justice, treating a person according to how they act.
Raselepe as he was respectfully feared had terrorized the villagers in Kweneng for some time with an account of Rape and Murder. The most degrading crimes in the entirety of human existence as they tag along the use of fierce weapons, force and violence which demonstrate lack of respect for the dignity of the victim. When the Hangman finally gets you, or any other death row inmate, he exercises utmost respect and ensures you leave this world in a more dignified way. I would understand these critics if he too used weapons to butcher you until the soul leaves your body, but contrary to the outcry of Him being inhumane, mostly he uses a well knitted rope or lethal injection. Giving the ruthless murderer the dignity he himself does not believe in.
Therefore the idea of dignity being raised in defense of the likes of Raselepe is only a clear indication of portraying the murderer as a victim of circumstances. The graphic pictures of our brothers and sisters being butchered are a reminder embossed on our consciences of what should not be done against our people. The only end game of those playing the Dignity card is that they only seek to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which in its remembrance should teach us to accept the old saying ‘an eye for an eye’.
Secondly it’s the idea of the State using the wrath of the Hangman to show that killing is wrong and immoral which is illegitimate as the State is using human beings( murderers in this case) as means to an end to demonstrate why we must not kill. Unlike any murderer, the State does not just decide to arbitrarily execute someone; it only does it as a form of punishment having followed due process to give the criminal a day in court as it is enshrined in the constitutions and universal treaties that most subscribe to. To show that states are considerate and value the right to life, that is exactly why there are a select few high profile crimes that can send you to the death chamber, with murder and treason being the most common.
Still within this bracket, we make further considerations hence the idea of murder and manslaughter. To make provisions for cases of self-defense, to recognize that if someone makes deadly advances on your life, you can take theirs to preserve that of the innocent in this case. Therefore the Hangman does not devalue life, but rather affirms the value of the innocent life taken by the criminal.
Crimes are committed against individuals but it is the responsibilities of a neutral body like the state, through its courts to adjudicate and pass on punishment to the guilty. Therefore the Hangman is not used by the state as a tool of oppression unlike murderers who do. Crimes especially grave ones like murder are used in most instances to oppress a specific target or group of people in society. This is proven by the idea of intention and proper planning that first degree murders are given.
When John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators planned the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, there was no other fitting punishment than executing them by the grounds of the old Arsenal Prison except the mastermind John Booth who had been shot and killed during the man hunt.
This argument is often at times pinned on the claim that the death penalty does not in any way deter future cases of murder. I disagree; if that were to be the case then we would probably have double the number of murder cases and with the hangman being busier than he is today. The idea mentioned above of man being rationale beings is applicable here; He makes calculations on the risks of taking away life, which would be the wrath of facing the Hangman. Why isn’t a majority of us thinking of committing murder, let alone any form of crime if this was true?
Finally there is the idea that execution is often a severe punishment for the courts to hand out. There is a concept in justice called proportionality which states basically that the reaction should fit the action. (The punishment should commensurate the crime). It is worth noting that without proportionality, death would be an appropriate punishment for all who initiate force. The argument of severity would be valid in so far as people had reason to believe that the hangman is being used too loosely, handed out to mitigate any crime, but that is not the case considering when we feel the need to use it, for capital crimes like murder and treason. Taking proportionality into account, the premeditated murder of an innocent by a criminal justly deserves execution by the state of that criminal. Capital punishment symbolizes the value and importance placed upon maintenance of the sanctity of human life. Any lesser sentence would fail in this duty.
In conclusion of the defense of the Hangman, this is one man who is just there to ensure that justice is served. He does not arbitrarily decide to execute anyone; he makes crucial considerations on who to send to the gutter. The hangman stands and waits outside the court room for those indicted, tried and convicted to ensure that justice isn’t buried with the victims.
*Boemo Delano Phirinyane is a social & political commentator and the 2014 Pan-African Universities Debate Champion and SADC Open 2015 Champion.