HARARE - The death of Rosemary Margaret Khumalo, 59, while on death row at Chikurubi Maximum prison, last week has raised questions around capital punishment in Zimbabwe.
Khumalo died after 15 years on death row. She was convicted of the 1998 gruesome murder of her businessman suitor Maxwell Sibanda.
She was also convicted separately of a string of robberies.
Beatrice Mtetwa a lawyer and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, ZLHR, board chairperson said it was inhuman and degrading to have someone on death row for 15 years.
“Being on death row for an unduly long period is a violation of one’s rights.
“I do not know why she was on death row for such a long period time. Either someone did not know what they were doing or they did not want to execute her. It is a blow on the justice system of Zimbabwe.”
Mtetwa said Khumalo’s cause of death might have been triggered by the anxiety of being on death row for such a long time.
Elizabeth Banda, Zimbabwe Prison Services spokesperson said Khumalo died of natural causes and had high blood pressure.
However she said her body was taken for post mortem to determine the exact cause of death. The death of Khumalo has left
one female prisoner, Shylet Sibanda on the death row. The Eye shot spoke to human rights activists who condemned the death penalty.
Zimbabwe has not executed any person on death row since 2005, making it a de facto abolitionist state.
Cousin Zilala the executive director of Amnesty International Zimbabwe said: “The most important thing is that Zimbabwe is classified as a de facto abolitionist state because it has gone 10 years without executing any prisoner on death row.
It is a de facto abolitionist in practice and not at law.”
Zilala said his organisation was pushing for the abolition of the death penalty in Zimbabwe.
“The new Constitution offers a reprieve of the death penalty to women, men below 21 years and those over 70 years.
“But this is not enough; we want complete abolition of the death penalty. Since we do not support the death penalty we are against executions.” Access to medical care in prison is a basic right said Zilala. “The government should ensure the provision of prisoner’s access to medical care which constitutes human dignity, denial can constitute to torture or inhuman treatment.”
Dzimbabwe Chimbga, the ZLHR programmes manager added his voice to the call of abolition of the death penalty saying:
“Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights advocates for total eradication of the death penalty and that is consistent with international human rights treaties and more specifically the optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that calls for the universal abolition of the death penalty.”
Rita Nyamupinga Director of Female Prisoners Support Trust, Femprist, described her visits to Khumalo who was affectionately known as Makhumalo.
Nyamupinga said: “I was at Prison today (Wednesday). It was a visit with a difference.
“Makhumalo was so brave even after being sentenced to death she could smile and share her story without any reservation.
“She used to say ‘I am telling you because this place is not good, wanzvaka? (you hear?) with a Ndebele accent.
“She was in there from 1999 when she was sentenced to death for murder.
“All she wished for was to be released if they could not hang her. She said she had repented but could not bear the torture any longer. She was so prayerful, at times we would fail to pray but she would encourage us to soldier on,”
Khumalo petitioned President Robert Mugabe five times begging for mercy but two of those petitions were turned down.
Nyamupinga said her organisation and the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, Zwla, went to the courts arguing that Khumalo should have her death penalty removed since the new Constitution says no death penalty for women.
“However, the case was thrown out with the respondents saying there was no urgency of realigning the law.
“When we visited her with Zwla she was happy that her wish to be pardoned was so close to being fulfilled.
“At times the law is stubborn especially when our expectations are high. “The constitution says women will not be hanged but since MaKhumalo committed this crime and was sentenced to death way before, it still remained that she should be sent to the gallows,” said Nyamupinga.
Nyamupinga said, “Every time we parted she would remind us not to take long before visiting her.
“At times we would take our time because of the after effects of the previous visit.
“In February 2014 after the Presidential Amnesty we all thought MaKhumalo was eventually going but it was never to be.
“Makhumalo was always smart in her prison uniform and was always weaving nice beautiful jewellery baskets. She died peacefully on Tuesday.”