Eight years ago today, Botswana hanged a Zimbabwean man for slaying four.
Employed by his cousin Patricia Majoko as a filing clerk at her law firm — and also living with Majoko — Gerald Dube went wild when he was fired from the job in 2001 and slew his benefactress, her two children, and also the maid. Whether he was literally legally insane was the last and decisive argument around his case.
A month before his hanging Dube favored the larger public with a letter providing a firsthand account of life with four other condemned men in “Cell 10”, Botswana’s death row. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate this text in its entirety, but it is summarized in this article, which also quotes some excerpts.
Concerning the night of an execution (the doomed are removed from Cell 10 only 24 hours prior to hanging, which is also the extent of their advance notice of imminent death):
A few hours after nightfall, when the last prison lights have gone out and the only sound is the rustle of corrugated iron roofing and the chirping of night insects, the terror that envelopes Cell 10 seems closer and more palpable. Between the time prison officers come to take condemned inmate away, usually around 6 am, until the execution at 6 am the following morning, the inmates of Cell 10 listen in on every sound. Somewhere at the back of your mind you know that your brother is being executed next door.
Every movement from the slaughter house can be heard very clearly in Cell 10. At night, prison warders sit through a night vigil, singing hymns the whole night. Just before 0600 am, there will be complete silence. And the hanging starts. You can imagine the emotional torture that comes with the whole process.
Death row’s more routine torments:
Our day starts at 0500 am, that is when Radio Botswana switches on, and so do the prison lights. 0600 hours, the cell is opened and the only movement we can do is shuffling around the courtyard. Between 0700 and 0730 we have our breakfast. Lunch is served between 12 00 Hrs and 1300 Hrs and supper between 15 00hrs and 1545hrs. At 17 00 hrs we are locked back into the cell. The routine continues until the day the hangman arrives … In between 17 00hrs and 0500hours we do not have access to the toilet. The only toilet available to us is in the courtyard. Once we are locked in our cell we can not access this toilet. When we need to relief ourselves, that is when we need to pee or worse, the only thing at our disposal is a bucket that can only be emptied the following morning. Remember there are five of us using a bucket for whatever relief and this has been going on for years. We are tired of raising this with prison officers who have all been turning a deaf ear.
When we complain, all we get from the officers is verbal abuse. We are reminded that we are on death row and have been condemned to death. We are reminded that we are condemned prisoners and that the Prison Department cannot waste government resources on condemned prisoners. The question we are asking ourselves is whether we forfeited our constitutional rights when we were sentenced to death?