Capital punishment in South Africa
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.
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. 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. 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. Out of more than one hundred South Africans executed in 1988, only three were white. 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.
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. 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.
There are a few parties in South Africa nowadays that support bringing the death penalty back. They are the National Party South Africa, the African Christian Democratic Party, Economic Freedom Fighters and the National Conservative Party of South Africa.
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