The hanging of Patrick Gabaakanye (65) on Wednesday morning by the state has polarised public debate on whether the country should continue with the law or not. Gabaakanye was convicted for murder of a 75 year old man on 26th May 2010 and was sentenced to the death penalty by the High Court of Botswana on 13th March 2014. His appeal against conviction and sentence was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 30 July 2015. His previous convictions include two offences of robbery and murder and a trail of other related crimes spanning several years. He killed a security guard using a hand gun during robbery, for which he was sentenced to 10 and 15 years imprisonment respectively. Those in support of capital punishment argue that notwithstanding that the death penalty may not be a deterrent, it is punishment nonetheless. They have reiterated their support of the judicial killing of sacrilegious persons proven to place no value or respect on the inviolability of life. They argue that the European Union (EU) and human rights activists are addressing the wrong end of the spectrum: instead of telling Botswana to stop hanging murderers they should be telling would-be murderers to desist from their heinous acts.
So confident are the supporters of capital punishment that they dare the state to call a referendum to assess public opinion on the subject to put the debate to rest, once again. They are beholden to the conviction that the majority of Batswana still support the hanging of convicted murderers after exhausting the court process, and clemency appeals. Death penalty supporters argue that those that end up on death row committed heinous crimes when they took innocent lives and deserve to be hanged for such horrific crimes. They even express confidence in local courts of law, saying there has never been evidence to suggest that anybody was hanged erroneously, and that the courts are always reluctant to pronounce the death penalty where there is an iota of doubt or an excuse not to. So, in clear cut cases of premeditated killings criminals should hang, as ordered by the courts as the law dictates. Across the aisle many argue that the death penalty is barbaric, vengeful and in-humane and amounts to state killing. Only animals kill each other and practice revenge killing, they say. They are quick to point out that state killing has been proven not to be a deterrent. The even suggest that while the murderer is most likely driven by complex social, biological, or psychological factors the retributionist is certainly driven by vengeful desire, a clearly personal act.
Why do we persist in this form of cruelty of hanging people in this day against all sociological and scientific researches that refutes all arguments that attempt to justify the death penalty, they ask? Are we that cruel as a nation and fixated on the desire to kill and exert revenge that we fail to comprehend that even courts of laws can err? They point to reversal of the hanging order of two Basarwa men, Gwara Brown Motswetla and Tlhabologang Mauwe; just hours before they were to meet with the hangman after attorney Kgafela intervened and won them freedom. Even in the face of resistance from those still in support of the death penalty, those against it argue that issues of human rights are not informed by what a majority says but what is just and right. According to them it’s a matter of time before retributionists, who are supporting state sanctioned killings of human beings are defeated. The stringing of convicted killers on government properties shall be a thing of the past in five years, they believe.
The EU has entered the fray and recalled its opposition to the use of capital punishment which they insist can never be justified. They believe that the death penalty is a cruel and inhumane punishment and has consistently called for its universal abolition. The EU says experience worldwide has demonstrated that the death penalty fails to act as a deterrent to crime. They in turn call on the Botswana authorities to reinstate a moratorium on executions as a first step towards the universal abolition of death penalty. While the debate rages on, government has remained mum on the issue, save to implement the law as is currently.