/OPINION | We need the death penalty precisely because respect for human life is so important

OPINION | We need the death penalty precisely because respect for human life is so important

2019-09-04 10:59

The defence of human life should be so central to the mission of our society that we should be prepared to take the lives of those who violate the preservation of human life in favour of the maintenance of peace and security in our communitieswrites Rich Mkhondo.

Why shouldn’t the killer of Uyinene Mrwetyana and others of his ilk face the same fate? Why shouldn’t he be sentenced to die by lethal injection or hanging?

Some crimes are so heinous that there is no other justifiable penalty. There are a significant number of brutal crimes, particularly against children and women, that the death penalty should be an option for punishment.

Indeed, there are some crimes that are so heinous that no other punishment adequately expresses the outrage of society as we have seen with the rape and murder of Uyinene and others who have not received such coverage. I think our society has a right to expect revenge for some crimes.

Indeed, there are some crimes that are so brutal and senseless that the only proper societal response is death. Our legal system should have this option.


Of course I am aware that opponents and supporters of the death penalty have a lot of ammunition in their arsenals.

Opponents of the death penalty, which was abolished in 1995, a year after the demise of apartheid, say killing the killer is wrong. They argue that only God has the power over life and death, that as humans, we are fallible and we must respect the sanctity of life, the sacredness of life.

Then there are those who say, because of the endless legal maneuvering that goes on for decades, the cost of utilising the death penalty is higher than life in prison.

How about the fact that the economically disadvantaged can be, and often are, improperly defended, making the possibility that an innocent person might be put to death?

Of course some say there are ways in which justice and fairness may never be attained in certain cases leading to capital punishment. These include prosecutor misdeeds and biased judges.

Most troubling for some is the possibility that an innocent person can be put to death with no way to bring a wrongfully executed person back to life.

Others say individuals would show more respect for human life if we as a society showed more respect for human life and, if we hold human life sacrosanct, we protect it by taking another life.

Opponents of the death penalty quote studies which have concluded that capital punishment is not a deterrent.

They point out that the majority of executions now only take place in just seven countries: Iran, Iraq, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United States.

Europe is totally free of capital punishment. Of the 47 European countries, only Belarus with a totalitarian regime, applies the death penalty.

Also, opponents of the death penalty refer to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights which proclaims: “Every individual has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person.”

There is also the exclusion of the death penalty by the Rome Treaty which created the International Criminal Court tasked to pursue and prosecute those responsible for the worst acts: Crimes against humanity, genocide, massacres, rapes, ethnic purification.

The Treaty of Rome stated that the maximum penalty is life imprisonment “if the extreme seriousness and personal participation of the sentenced person justifies it”. 


Given the fact that crime rates continue to soar, it is clear that the existing forms and scale of punishment are largely ineffective and our country’s ending of capital punishment after the democratic elections has been a complete failure and given the lawlessness, we need to save the lives of the innocent and consider taking the lives of the guilty.

I really believe that there are some people who do not deserve to live, like the killer of Uyinene and many others. Rapists and murderers, serial killers, armed robbers are a few who should face the hangman, or hang lady.

No crime is comparable to murder. I really cannot fathom any deliberate extinction of a human life.  Why should another person deprive another person forever of any pleasure, any happiness, any contact with other people, any of the joys that life may offer.

I know that the murder of people such as Uyinene will always harden the public’s attitude to those accused and found guilty of murder. But there are many people who die like her every day.

Those found guilty of such crimes do deserve to be punished and, in keeping with such terrible crimes, the punishments deserve to be severe.  After all, why should Uyinene’s parents, clan and friends forever be deprived of the opportunity to express their love or to enjoy her companionship?

Why should Uyinene’s community lose the opportunity to benefit from her contributions and her talent as a future filmmaker that our society might have produced?

For me, the execution of her murderer will be right, as the worst punishment our society can impose upon him without turning to barbarism and cruelty. It will be a symbolic statement by lawmakers that we have utter contempt for anyone who tramples upon our laws and violates the rights of others to life.

The defence of human life should be so central to the mission of our society that we should be prepared to take the lives of those who violate the preservation of human life in favour of the maintenance of peace and security in our communities.

For me having an option of imposing the death penalty will be a declaration that any person who takes another life is unworthy to have a right to live.

Lawmakers, please bring back the death penalty to send a very strong signal to rapists, killers and murderous robbers that that there are indeed limits on their behaviour beyond sitting in a warm cell enjoying three meals a day for 27 years, the maximum number of years one can serve a life sentence.

– Rich Mkhondo runs The Media and Writers Firm, a ghost-writing, content development and reputation management hub.

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