Capital punishment in South Africa

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Capital punishment in South Africa was abolished on 6 June 1995 by the ruling of the Constitutional Court in the case of S v Makwanyane, following a five-year and four-month moratorium since February 1990.[1]


The standard method for carrying out executions was hanging, sometimes of several convicts at the same time. The number of executions steadily rose during the first half of the 20th century, the only country in the world to see a clear and unbroken development in such a direction.[citation needed] Mandatory death penalty for murder was abolished in 1935. At the same time, criminal justice saw an increased racialisation in disfavour of the non-white majority, who was represented in the vast majority of culprits in capital cases.[2] Hanging was maintained following the instatement of a republic in 1961. At approximately the same time South Africa saw mounting international criticism against purposely political executions of anti-apartheid activists convicted of violent crimes, mainly of blacks, but in some cases of whites, such as John Frederick Harris in 1965.

The 1980s saw a rapid increase in the number of executions; 164 in 1987 alone (an official tally higher than that of any other country, including the People's Republic of China and Iran). Since 1959, the South African government officially performed 2,949 hangings (14 of women), including 1,123 in the 1980s.[3] Out of more than one hundred South Africans executed in 1988, only three were white.[4] Despite the grim statistics, not all capital cases ended with execution; of 83 black South Africans convicted of killing whites between June 1982 and June 1983 some 38 were hanged, as well as one white convicted of killing a white (out of 52). Of 21 murder convictions involving a white person killing a black person, all ended with prison or minor sentences.[5]

The last execution carried out by the South African government was the hanging of Solomon Ngobeni in November 1989. The last woman executed was Sandra Smith on 2 June the same year along with her boyfriend Yassiem Harris, in all cases following a murder conviction.[3] In February 1990, a moratorium was declared by President De Klerk. Two further executions were, however, carried out in the nominally independent "homelands" of Boputhatswana and Venda in 1990 and 1991 respectively.[6]

Executions were carried out in Pretoria Central Prison; condemned prisoners were held in a section of the prison called "The Pot".[7]

Although the death penalty was abolished in 1995, opinion polls suggest significant public support for its reinstatement [8][9]

Death Penalty in south Africa nowadays

There are a few parties in South Africa nowadays that support bringing the death penalty back. they are the National Party South Africa,[10] the African Christian Democratic Party [11] and Economic Freedom Fighters.[12][13]

See also

Further reading

  • Lloyd, Vogelman (1989). "The Living Dead: Living on Death Row". South African Journal on Human Rights. University of the Witwatersrand.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  1. French, Howard W. (6 June 1995). "South Africa's Supreme Court Abolishes Death Penalty". New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Robert Turrell, White Mercy. A Study of the Death Penalty in South Africa". Retrieved 2016-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Sandra Smith - the last woman to be hanged in South Africa". 1989-11-14. Retrieved 2016-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Battersby, John D. (1 December 1988). "Hangings Now the Routine at Pretoria Prison". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "The Death Penalty in South Africa - Simpson & Vogelman". Retrieved 2016-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Clark, Richard. "Capital punishment in the Commonwealth". Capital Punishment UK. Retrieved 18 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Robert Adams (1998). The Abuses of Punishment. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 178. ISBN 0-312-17617-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "South Africans Support Death Penalty". Angus Reid Global. 14 May 2006. Retrieved 22 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Youth 'want death penalty reinstated'". SAPA. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "National Party South Africa (NP)". Retrieved 2016-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Justice". ACDP. Retrieved 2016-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. " Juju wants death penalty". Retrieved 2016-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Malema wants death penalty #EFFlaunch | Economic Freedom Fighters - EFF". Economic Freedom Fighters. 2013-10-13. Retrieved 2016-01-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>