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No death penalty referendum, ministry says as it clarifies Lamola's statement

05 September 2019 - 12:24 By ERNEST MABUZA
Justice and constitutional development minister Ronald Lamola.
Justice and constitutional development minister Ronald Lamola.
Image: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Lucky Morajane

The call for the reinstatement of the death penalty was flawed in many ways and the idea that the death penalty acted as a deterrent to violent crime was not true.

These comments were made by the justice ministry on Wednesday night as it clarified that no referendum will be held on whether the death penalty should be reintroduced.

At a media briefing on Tuesday, justice minister Ronald Lamola was asked whether the cabinet would consider discussing a referendum on calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

In response, Lamola said if the matter were brought to cabinet, it would probably have to discuss the matter.

In a statement issued on Wednesday night, the ministry said it had noted that Lamola’s response could have been read in a different light.

Ministry spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said the country could not subject the country’s bill of rights to a referendum.

He said the basis of the constitutional order was premised on the need to protect all those who might not be protected adequately through the democratic process where sheer numbers determined the extent of that protection.

“Today we will subject the prohibition of the death penalty to a referendum. Tomorrow it will be to re-criminalise abortion and later it will be to take protection accorded to the LGBQTI community,” Phiri said.

Phiri said the constitution stated that “everyone has a right to life”.

Phiri said the Constitutional Court, in the case of State versus Makwanyane, found that  right to life was guaranteed in the constitution and prohibited the death penalty.

He said the decision was based in well-documented research that the death penalty had not served as a deterrent in any society around the world. The ministry said this could be seen in South Africa, where the death rate was 67 per 100,000 in 1994/1995, when the death penalty was abolished,  and this has dropped to 33 per 100,000 by 2014/2015.

“This is a 51% drop in 20 years. It is still too high, but clearly the evidence shows that the death penalty was not a determining factor in reducing murder rates.”