Address by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, MP, (Adv) at the launch of the Gallows Exhumation Project at Kgosi Mampuru II on 23 March 2016
Executive Mayor of Tshwane Cllr Sputla Ramokgoba
Eastern Cape MEC Penny Majodina
National Commissioner Mr Zach Modise
General Secretary of Pan Africanist Congress Mr Narius Moloto
Representative of APLAMVA Mr Gordon Mpinie
Acting CEO of Freedom Park Ms Jane Mufamadi
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Dr Tourie Pretorius
Ladies and gentlemen
As we launch these gallows, allow me to start by recounting the remarkable story of this Management Centre. This centre was named after Kgosi Mampuru II, who relentlessly resisted a colonial rule at a time when doing so was met by death sentence through hanging the convicted person.
Kgoshi Mampuru II was hanged to death at the old Pretoria Central Prison on 22 November 1883. The Transvaal Advertiser of 24 November 1883 recorded that:
“The Executive Council of this state having decided that the sentence of death pronounced upon the kaffir Chief Mampuru at the last Criminal Sessions of the High Court for murder and rebellion should be carried out, the execution took place on Thursday morning of 22 November. Generally the dread sentence of the law is carried out within the precincts of the gaol, but, for some reason or other, it was resolved to vary the practice in the case of Mampuru, and the gallows was erected on the western side of the gaol, within the enclosure … some 260 white persons took advantage of the opportunity of witnessing a public execution furnished to them by the Executive … these men of education and standing in society … turned out early in the morning to behold a scene that, under any circumstances, is most repulsive and horrible. The Government … enforced the attendance of the kaffir prisoners, who had been more or less compatriots of Mampuru; and they were compelled to witness the death agonies of the Chief. It may be mentioned that the Government did not consider it necessary to provide the condemned prisoner with a shirt, and he was hanged in all his nakedness.”
The brutal execution of Kgosi Mampuru was reported as far as the United States. The New York Times of 19th December 1886 recorded that:
“Mampuru was led naked to the jail yard in the presence of 200 whites. The first rope used broke when the trap was sprung and Mampuru fell into a pit below. He was dragged out, however, and another attempt to hang him was successful.”
Historically, South Africa had one of the highest rates of judicial execution in the world. In the late 1960s, In the late 1960s, South African abolitionist lawyer Professor Barend van Niekerk estimated that 47% of all executions in the world took place in South Africa. In the period from 1985 to 1988 South Africa had the second highest execution rate in the world, second only to Iran. In 1987 South Africa executed more people than China or the United States of America, countries with much higher population figures.
The racial disparities in the imposition of the death sentence at the hands of exclusively white judges in South Africa are well documented. Particular judges were notorious for imposing the death sentence, an indicator of the arbitrary nature of its imposition. In addition, access to a proper legal defence was often not available to impoverished and sometimes illiterate black South Africans languishing in prison, who were subjected to court cases held in Afrikaans in which they heard and spoke through an interpreter. Due to the sacrifices of these gallant fighters, measures are in place to transform of our justice system to make it more accessible.
After the surge in protest activities against apartheid after 1960, 1976 and the 1980s, several additional laws were passed which extended the application of the death sentence. In 1962, the so-called ‘Sabotage Act’ permitted the imposition of the death penalty for those so convicted. This was later accompanied by the Terrorism Act of 1967 which also provided for the death penalty to be imposed. The Internal Security Act of 1976 introduced the death penalty for the offence of undergoing forms of training which advanced the cause of communism.
Ladies and gentlemen
Between 1960 and 1990, at least 130 individuals were hanged for politically motivated offences. All those sentenced to death in South African courts were transferred to Pretoria Central Maximum Security prison, where the gallows were situated, to await their execution. The so-called ‘independent homelands’ also had their own gallows.
Those on Death Row were held under strict controls to avoid the possibility of suicide – lights were on twenty four hours, prisoners were watched through a grille. Once all legal processes had been completed and any petition for clemency granted or denied, notification would be received listing a date of execution for seven days hence. Those condemned would be moved to the ‘pot’, a waiting section reserved for their last seven days alive.
During this final week, the condemned were measured in terms of height, weight, and thickness of neck to prepare the correct conditions for their execution. Their families were notified of the impending execution, given a second class train ticket to Pretoria where they were able to visit the prisoner. These were non-contact visits, the last of which would be the afternoon before the execution.
The gallows could accommodate seven persons. The noosed and hooded prisoners were lined up along the trapdoor. The executioner would pull a lever that would drop the trapdoor, plunging the prisoners some six or seven feet.
After some few minutes, the medical officer would examine the body and confirm the death. The bodies were placed naked in coffins. An interdenominational service with the closed coffins would be held for the family in a prison chapel below the gallows chamber.
The bodies of those hanged remained the property of the state and were not given to the families after the execution. Instead, the bodies were buried as paupers, usually three to a grave, in racially segregated municipal cemeteries.
The political prisoners who were hanged came from a range of political backgrounds. They included members of Poqo (the armed wing of the PAC), Umkhonto we Sizwe (the armed wing of the ANC), the United Democratic Front and one member of the Armed Resistance Movement (ARM).
In a precedent-setting judgement, delivered by the Constitutional Court in June 1996, in the case of, State versus Makwanyane, the death penalty was finally abolished. The Constitutional Court ruled that the imposition of the death penalty was incompatible with the right to life as enshrined in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution and that capital punishment constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
South Africa’s first democratic President, Nelson Mandela summarised the death penalty well when he said:
“The death sentence is a barbaric act … It is a reflection of the animal instinct still in human beings.”
In response to the Constitutional Court decision, our national legislature adopted the Criminal Law Amendment Act (Act 105 of 1997), which makes provision for the setting aside of sentences of death in accordance with law and their substitution by lawful punishments. After the Constitutional Court judgement all the prisoners sentenced to death for political crimes and other crimes, had their sentences converted to life imprisonment.
As South Africans we do not want to go back to the principle of retribution, because it embraces violence as the core value of society. To us, now living in a democratic society, based on respect for human rights, such a doctrine of retribution is unacceptable. Our democratic government took a conscious decision to entrench the right to life in our Constitution, given the problems attached to the death penalty, some of which have been well pronounced by our Constitutional Court.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found that the executions of persons convicted of offences that were politically motivated constituted gross violations of the rights of those so killed, for which the former government is held accountable.
Our Department has taken steps to recognise this fundamental violation and provide some form of reparations to the affected families. In 2011, members of the families of the hanged political prisoners were brought to the City of Tshwane by the Department of Correctional Services to see the Gallows where their loved ones were hanged. The families were also taken to see the cemeteries and sites where the bodies of those hanged were buried.
In the coming months starting from 4 April 2016, the Missing Persons Task Team in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will be conducting the exhumations of the remains of these gallant fighters. Our TRC Unit with various provincial governments will then arrange for the remains to be formally handed over to the affected families for dignified reburials.
Today we remember the sacrifices made by those who were hanged in course of the struggle for a democratic South Africa, including Benjamin Moloise, Michael Lucas, the five Vulindlela family members hanged together, Thelle Simon Mogoerane, and so many others. Let this launch remind us of the huge task ahead of ensuring a better life for all our people as these heroes did not die in vain.
I thank you!