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. 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 represented the vast majority of accused and convicted 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 Frederick John Harris in 1965. The history delicate that, it was mainly based for black people. in other words it was mainly based on wiping out the black race by white people in order accumulate the wealth of blacks in Africa.

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

Although the death penalty was abolished in 1995, opinion polls suggest significant public support for its reinstatement.[7][8] A 2014 poll in South Africa found that 76 percent of millennium generation South Africans support re-introduction of the death penalty.[9]

Current situation[edit]

There are a number of parties in South Africa that currently support the return of the death penalty. They are the National Party South Africa,[10] the African Christian Democratic Party,[11] African Covenant[12] , the African Transformation Movement (ATM)[13][14] and the National Conservative Party of South Africa.

2018 saw growing calls for the return of the death penalty. On 20 July the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) stated that the time had come to discuss the possibility of reinstating the death penalty in South Africa,[15][16] and on the 8th of August the National Freedom Party called for the restoration of the death penalty in South Africa after the death of Khensani Maseko, in a call similar to that of the IFP weeks before.[17]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Lloyd, Vogelman (1989). "The Living Dead: Living on Death Row". South African Journal on Human Rights. University of the Witwatersrand.


  1. ^ French, Howard W. (6 June 1995). "South Africa's Supreme Court Abolishes Death Penalty". New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  2. ^ "Robert Turrell, White Mercy. A Study of the Death Penalty in South Africa". Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Sandra Smith – the last woman to be hanged in South Africa". 14 November 1989. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  4. ^ Battersby, John D. (1 December 1988). "Hangings Now the Routine at Pretoria Prison". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Robert Adams (1998). The Abuses of Punishment. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 178. ISBN 0-312-17617-1.
  6. ^ Clark, Richard. "Capital punishment in the Commonwealth". Capital Punishment UK. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  7. ^ "South Africans Support Death Penalty". Angus Reid Global. 14 May 2006. Archived from the original on 22 April 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  8. ^ "Youth 'want death penalty reinstated'". SAPA. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  9. ^ Location Settings (22 February 2013). "Youth 'want death penalty reinstated'". News24. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  10. ^ "National Party South Africa (NP)". Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  11. ^ "Justice". ACDP. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "From the death penalty to scrapping low pass marks: Manyi's ambitions for the ATM".
  14. ^ New political party officially launched in the Eastern Cape. Retrieved on 21 January 2019.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "NFP echoes IFP calls for death penalty after rape victim's suicide". Retrieved 8 July 2019.