12 Years Without an Execution: Is Zimbabwe Ready for Abolition?


By Death Penalty Project, on 24 May 2018

The death penalty has been a contentious issue in Zimbabwe. To investigate the views of the public towards the death penalty, a nationally representative survey was carried out with 1,200 Zimbabweans.

Support for the death penalty is relatively low

61% of Zimbabweans supported retention of the death penalty (41% thought it should ‘definitely’ be kept and 20% that it should ‘probably’ be kept) When confronted with a range of typical case scenarios, a majority of Zimbabweans rejected imposing the death penalty in five out of six cases.

While a majority of Zimbabweans expressed support for the death penalty this is much lower than may be expected for a country that retains the death penalty. Comparatively, a survey conducted in Trinidad in 2011 revealed that 89% of the public were in favour of keeping the death penalty. Moreover, the reluctance of Zimbabweans to impose the death penalty in different cases where the sentence could typically be applied suggests that support for capital punishment may be much lower in practice.

Support for the death penalty is not entrenched

92% of Zimbabweans considered policies other than ‘more executions’ to be the most effective at reducing violent crime
80% of those Zimbabweans who expressed support for the death penalty would be willing to accept abolition if it were to become government policy

The findings suggest that the death penalty is not an issue that Zimbabweans feel particularly strongly about and, if the government were to abolish, this decision would be widely accepted.

Public knowledge about the death penalty is limited

83% were unaware that Zimbabwe has not carried out any executions in the past decade
45% did not know that the method of execution in Zimbabwe is hanging

Respondents were generally poorly informed about the use of the death penalty in Zimbabwe and their opinions were therefore based on incomplete knowledge of the issue.

The research provides critical data to assist Zimbabwean policymakers – in particular those who may wish to move away from capital punishment but are faced with the dilemma of apparently strong public support for the death penalty.

Dr Mai Sato, University of Reading and report author, says:
The report focuses on moving public opinion beyond a binary issue of abolition or retention of the death penalty and unpicked how Zimbabweans really think about the topic. Some of the most compelling findings in the report are around how many Zimbabweans hadn’t realised that the country hasn’t carried out any executions in more than 12 years. Equally, more than nine in ten people we asked felt that alternatives to the death penalty would be most effective in reducing violent crime in their country.

Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project, says:
This illuminating research comes at an important time for Zimbabwe. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has in the past publically called for abolition of the death penalty. The findings should serve to assure policymakers that public opinion is not a barrier to abolition in Zimbabwe. We hope it will further encourage all governments of countries that retain the death penalty to question their assumptions on public attitudes.

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