1956: Elifasi Msomi, witch doctor

Add comment February 10th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1956, Zulu witch doctor Elifasi Msomi was executed in at Pretoria Central Prison in South Africa for the murders of fifteen people.

The devil made him do it, he said. Or, rather, Tokoloshe, an evil spirit in Zulu folklore.

Msomi had not been successful in earning a living at witch-doctoring, so he consulted an experienced colleague for advice. According to Msomi, the man introduced him to Tokoloshe and said, “Get me the blood of 15 people.”

Over the next year and a half, Msomi stalked KwaZulu Natal, slaughtering victims as the demon pointed them out, and collecting their blood in bottles. He would attack them with a knife, hatchet or knobkierie after luring them to an isolated area.

The first victim was a young girl. To prove to the demon just how dedicated and obedient he was, Msomi hacked his victim to death in front of his girlfriend. Tokoloshe was delighted, but the girlfriend was horrified. She went straight to the cops and had Msomi arrested. Then he escaped from custody … with Tokoloshe’s help, he said.

Msomi followed up on his first act by slaying five children. In April 1955, he was linked to multiple murders and arrested again, but again he escaped and picked up where he’d left off.

In his book Murder By Numbers: The 100 Most Deadly Serial Killers From Around The World, Robert Keller says,

Serial killers seldom stop killing of their own accord, but that is exactly what happened with Elifasi Msomi. Having collected the blood of his fifteenth young victim, he said that Tokoloshe thanked him for his service, then bathed with him in the river before they parted company.

Without Tokoloshe to help him anymore, Msomi soon came to police attention again when he was arrested for petty theft. In custody once more, he freely confessed to the murders and led authorities to some bodies, but he said he wasn’t responsible for his actions and was only following Tokoloshe’s orders.

There was, however, the problematic fact that he had raped some of his victims and robbed others; Tokoloshe hadn’t requested THAT. At the trial, two psychologists testified that Msomi was very intelligent and got sexual pleasure by causing pain to other people.

Writing of this case in Real Vampires, Night Stalkers and Creatures from the Darkside, Brad Steiger says,

Such was the reputation of the witch doctor’s power of channeling the Tokoloshe that prison officials granted permission to a deputation of tribal chiefs and elders to view Msomi after he had been hanged on February 10, 1956. These men were thus able to return to their respective tribes and proclaim that the witch doctor was really dead and that Tokoloshe had left him to seek out another host body.

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1964: Vuyisile Mini, Zinakile Mkaba and Wilson Khayingo

2 comments November 6th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1964, anti-apartheid fighters Vuyisile Mini, Zinakile Mkaba and Wilson Khayingo went to the gallows of Pretoria Central Prison — the first three members of the African National Congress’s military arm to be executed by apartheid South Africa.

In 1960, on the 21st of March — a date still kept as South Africa’s Human Rights Day, and worldwide as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — white police gunned down 69 black civilians protesting the color line.

After the Sharpeville Massacre the struggle over racial apartheid in South Africa escalated to a much more violent plane.

Confrontations throughout South Africa following Sharpeville led the white government to declare a state of emergency and begin rounding up thousands of regime opponents. Pretoria also immediately outlaws the leading black resistance organizations, the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress.

Driven underground, both PAC and ANC spun off military wings in 1961 to meet force with force.

We have already visited the “Langa Six”, members of the PAC’s Poqo.

Shortly thereafter, on December 16, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation” in Zulu, but better known simply as “MK”) announced its advent with placards in city streets.

The time comes in the life of any people when there remain two choices: to submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We will not submit but will fight back with all means at our disposal in defence of our rights, our people and our freedom.

MK conducted its first dynamite attacks that very evening in Port Elizabeth; over the ensuing 18 months, it carried out more than 200 bombings and other acts of sabotage against the facilities of the apartheid state: train tracks, power stations, telephone wires, offices.

A security crackdown naturally ensued.* By 1963, the white government had managed to expose and arrest three-quarters of MK’s regional Eastern Cape High Command. Vuyisile Mini, Wilson Khayingo, and Zinakile Mkaba were all swiftly condemned on multiple counts of sabotage plus one of murdering a police informant. International appeals for clemency fell on deaf ears; one fellow-traveler later remembered the men taking leave of their fellow-prisoners in a haunting song.**

“The last evening was devastatingly sad as the heroic occupants of the death cells communicated to the prison in gentle melancholy song that their end was near … It was late at night when the singing ceased, and the prison fell into uneasy silence. I was already awake when the singing began again in the early morning. Once again the excruciatingly beautiful music floated through the barred windows, echoing round the brick exercise yard, losing itself in the vast prison yards. And then, unexpectedly, the voice of Vuyisile Mini came roaring down the hushed passages. Evidently standing on a stool, with his face reaching up to a barred vent in his cell, his unmistakable bass voice was enunciating his final message in Xhosa to the world he was leaving. In a voice charged with emotion but stubbornly defiant he spoke of the struggle waged by the African National Congress and of his absolute conviction of the victory to come. And then it was Khayinga’s turn, followed by Mkaba, as they too defied all prison rules to shout out their valedictions. Soon after, I heard the door of their cell being opened. Murmuring voices reached my straining ears, and then the three martyrs broke into a final poignant melody which seemed to fill the whole prison with sound and then gradually faded away into the distant depths of the condemned section.

* It was during this crackdown that future president Nelson Mandela was rolled up. Mandela had helped to found MK.

** According to The Road to Democracy in South Africa, 1960-1970, the song was Mini’s own composition titled “Pasop — nants’in-dod’inyama, Verwoerd” (“Watch out, here is the African man, Verwoerd!”). If it is available online, I have not been able to find it.

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1968: Veyusile Qoba, the last of the Langa Six

Add comment March 7th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1968, the black South African revolutionary Veyusile Qoba was hanged for his role in the murder of a policeman six years before.

Four men before him had gone to the gallows the previous Halloween for this crime; a fifth hanged separately for a different policeman’s killing late in 1967. Together with Qoba, they constituted the “Langa Six”.

The color line, of course, was the beef of the Six — and not only that, but the divide within the anti-resistance movement between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

The Langa Six belonged to the latter entity’s military wing, Poqo (later to develop into the Azania People’s Liberation Army, but we’ll use the period-appropriate original nomenclature here). After police response to a PAC-organized 1960 protest against South Africa’s notorious racial passes turned into the Sharpeville Massacre,* Poqo girded for violent struggle against a violent state.

With the alleged slogan “one settler, one bullet,”** Poqo mounted an aggressive terrorist campaign that did not scruple to target white civilians, or black civilians perceived as collaborators. (The ANC’s simultaneous Nelson Mandela-led terrorist campaign had a more selective attitude.)

And this, in turn, spurred a further crackdown, as Pretoria banned both the ANC and PAC, and enacted a Sabotage Act — the law under which Nelson Mandea was jailed for life.

Poqo and PAC operatives were likewise arrested by the thousands in the troubled 1960s.

In March 1962, five of the Langa Six attacked police vehicles in the Cape Town suburb, killing a police Sgt. Moyi.

According to [policeman] Basson, some 50 Bantu attacked his vehicle when he tried to start the engine … he found that one of the petrol bombs set the vehicle alight and they were compelled to jump out — they were dragged out of the vehicle. It was at this stage that Sgt Moyi was set upon, pulled to the ground, and stabbed to death. Det-Sgt Josiah Moss was also injured and knocked unconscious but owing to that he fortunately escaped with his life. (Source)

(South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth & Reconciliation Commission found that this event was an impromptu, local ambush, rather than a centrally-planned operation.)

* The date of that massacre, March 21, is now honored as Human Rights Day in South Africa; it’s also the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

** As Sartre put it in his notes to Fanon’s 1961 Wretched of the Earth, “to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remain a dead man, and a free man.” PAC spokespeople have denied that “one settler, one bullet” was an actual party slogan or policy, however.

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1987: Moses Jantjies and Wellington Mielies, after the Langa massacre

Add comment September 1st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1987, Moses Jantjies and Wellington Mielies — “political prisoners” in the estimation of their supporters — hanged along with five common criminals at Pretoria for the murder of Ben Kinikini and five others.*

The killing of Kinikini occurred in an environment of bitterly escalating hostilities in the eastern cape city of Uitenhage and especially the KwaNobuhle township. Anti-apartheid school boycotts dating back to September 1984 (part of a spreading revolt in the townships at that time) had metastasized into violent confrontations when protesters were denied meeting space by the black KwaNobuhle councillors.

Kinikini was such a councillor, and he and the others had been under popular pressure to resign, and even had their homes stoned, since the last weeks of 1984.

Protesters stoned vehicles. Riot squads roamed the streets. Police shootings became everyday events, and more enraged crowds gathered at the resulting funerals of their victims.**

On March 21, 1985,† police opened fire on one such funeral procession, slaying some 20 people in a single go — the Langa Massacre.


Coffins of the Langa Massacre’s victims. (cc) image from United Nations Photo Library. Also see this, this, this and this.

And then it really hit the fan.

Riots erupted following the Langa massacre, and it was on March 23 that Kinikini was dragged from his house and murdered: black township councillors were liable to be seen as apartheid collaborators. Defense witnesses for Jantjies and Mielies were quite a bit more specific, slating Kinikini with direct links to murderous vigilantes who liked to beat up and rape protesters in the creepy privacy of Kinikini’s apt personal business, a mortuary.

And as one memoir of the period puts it, “the government knew black councillors would not participate in a democratic charade unless their lives and property were protected and avenged. Some two and a half thousand black councillors, policemen and informers, real and rumoured, had been killed in the unrest that had begun in 1984.”

For South African president and white-rule stalwart P.W. Botha, those were far more pressing constituencies than mercy appeals from usual suspects like black activists and the West German government. These were also the first two township-rising convicts to come up for execution, out of some 33 then on death row, so their treatment figured to set the precedent for even higher-profile cases on the horizon like the Sharpeville Six. (In the event, apartheid collapsed before the Six could actually be hanged.)

The message was hardly lost on its internal audience.

“We have come to terms with the fact that the enemy has declared war,” Winnie Mandela told a Johanessburg memorial service for Jantjies and Mielies hanged. “We accept the challenge. The blood of the comrades has not flowed in vain.”

* Ben Kinikini, his four sons and nephews, and one other person were stabbed and burned to death. Some reports term at least Ben Kinikini’s killing a “necklacing” — the brutal method of popular execution that arose in the 1980s in which the “jewelry” was a rubber tire filled with flaming petrol. It sounds from the widow’s secondhand description as if this could indeed characterize it, though the fact that the Truth and Reconcilation Commission called a July 1985 killing the country’s first necklacing might indicate otherwise. News stories suggest that photographs and video exist of, if not the murder, at least the aftermath: perhaps these are dispositive on the point.

** See Thole Majodina, “A Short Background to the Shooting Incident in Langa Township, Uitenhage,” Human Rights Quarterly, August 1986.

† March 21 also happened to be the very anniversary date of one of apartheid South Africa’s most infamous police atrocities, the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. Thanks to Sharpeville, this first day of spring is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the date on which South Africa marks Human Rights Day.

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1960: Phineas Tshitaundzi, the panga man

4 comments November 14th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1960, South Africa conducted a mass execution of 15 miscellaneous criminals (14 black, one white) in Pretoria Prison.

The headline attraction was one of the 14 blacks: Phineas Tshitaundzi, the “panga man” or any number of related headline-worthy nicknames — the panga slasher, the panga maniac. (“Panga man” can also just be any old fellow with a panga, like an agricultural worker.)

A panga is a machete, and Phineas Tshitaundzi wielded this intimidating instrument during a 1950s spree terrorizing white lovers’ lanes around Johannesburg. “He would assault the men and rape the women — to whom, it was said, he then gave bus fare home,” wrote Jean and John Comaroff in Law and Disorder in the Postcolony.* “There could hardly have been a more intense figuration of the dark, erotically charged menace that stalked the cities in the white imagination.”

The assaults were non-fatal — panga man was the only one of the 14 blacks hanged this day not on the hook for murder — but the many survivors whose affairs were on the illicit side had injuries to cope with beyond those inflicted by the blade.

Tshitaundzi was finally caught as a result of fencing some of the proceeds of his crimes, whereupon it transpired that the terrifying perpetrator had been so difficult to capture because he’d been working as a mild-mannered 40-year-old “tea boy” at police headquarters itself, a position that allowed him to stay wise to various attempts to ensnare him.

The terrible “panga man” was installed in a kitschy exhibit in the police museum opened by his employes turned captors.

* The full chapter from this anthology can be read in pdf form here.

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1985: Benjamin Moloise, revolutionary poet

3 comments October 18th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1985, poet Benjamin Moloise was hanged in Pretoria for murdering a (black) policeman in apartheid South Africa.

Moloise’s controversial execution occurred in the context of violent resistance to apartheid in South Africa’s black townships and an ultimately fatal crisis for the apartheid state.

The black majority, long treated as second-class citizens by the white powers-that-be, turned to increasingly confrontational tactics aiming to break official power at the township level. Attacks on black officials and police officers who administered state authority at that level were part and parcel.

Moloise was convicted in a plot to kill such an officer in 1983. (The African National Congress claimed responsibility for the killing, and said that Moloise wasn’t involved.)

His hanging approached as the township rising grew into a mass movement that the hardline government of P.W. Botha answered mostly with force* — so, little surprise that Botha spurned both American and Soviet entreaties not to hang Moloise and little surprise that the execution further escalated racial violence.

Furious black protesters rioted in downtown Johannesburg itself, which (like much of white South Africa) had theretofore remained mostly immune to the violence gripping the townships. Here’s a French news report on Moloise’s execution and its aftermath.

All of which dovetailed with a dramatic fall in South Africa’s international position, vividly symbolized by the months-long collapse of the rand — which bled about three-quarters of its value in 1985. International outrage at the blood shed to enforce South Africa’s color line subjected it to a cascade of diplomatic and economic sanctions in the mid-1980s.

Apartheid went out with the Cold War at the end of the decade — vindicating Moloise’s poetic final message, subsequently a staple message at anti-apartheid rallies.

I am proud to be what I am …
The storm of oppression will be followed
By the rain of my blood

I am proud to give my life

My one solitary life.

* It had implemented a state of emergency that very summer. At the same time, Botha pursued tweaks around the edges of apartheid to preserve it: weeding out “petty apartheid” provocations like whites-only/coloreds-only facilities, and implementing a new constitution with a tricameral, race-based parliament.

Part of the Themed Set: Illegitimate Power.

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1986: Andrew Sibusiso Zondo and two other ANC cadres

12 comments September 9th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1986, African National Congress cadre Andrew Sibusiso Zondo was hanged in Pretoria nine months after bombing a shopping center near Durban, with five white fatalities.

Zondo claimed he had intended to non-fatally target the South African Airways office at Amanzimtoti’s Sanlam Centre, but couldn’t find a functioning, available telephone in time to phone in his attempted bomb warning. Did we mention that he was 19?

Zondo, it turned out, had been radicalized by South African security forces’ indiscriminate violence against claimed ANC “strongholds” — and specifically by a still-infamous attack, the “Matola raids,” on neighboring Mozambique.

The apartheid regime wasn’t out to win hearts and minds. And it didn’t.

[T]here have never been any ANC bases or camps in Mozambique. There are residences … and if the qualification to make a home a base is only that the people in it can use a gun, then let us be told now: because every white man in South Africa can use a gun and there are weapons in every white household. Are these bases too? (ANC Acting President Oliver Tambo)

The bomb (actually a mine) was planted three days after a South African raid on Lesotho. One of Zondo’s accomplices later turned state’s evidence in exchange for immunity.

Both the ANC, which had an official policy of avoiding civilian casualties, and Zondo himself portrayed the affair as a regrettable rogue operation carried out unofficially by an understandably frustrated cadre.

It was not the last word in the bloody tit-for-tat

Two other persons suspected of being involved in the Amanzimtoti blast, Mr Phumezo Nxiweni and Mr Stanley Sipho Bhila, were [extrajudicially] executed by Security Branch members after they were acquitted in court … At Andrew Zondo’s memorial service, his brother was so severely assaulted that he developed epilepsy, which subsequently killed him. Two mourners were shot dead leaving his parents’ home after the memorial service. Lembede, one of the security policemen involved in the killing of Zondo’s alleged accomplice, was himself later killed, allegedly by members of MK.


Hanged along with Zondo were two unrelated ANC cadres, plus three unrelated common criminals.

I have no information about the criminals, but the other revolutionaries to swing were Clarence Lucky Payi and Sipho Brigitte Xulu (or Sipho Bridget Xulu — but a guy, by either name).

Payi and Xulu assassinated another ANC agent, Benjamin Langa, the brother of present-day South African Chief Jutsice Pius Langa.

South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission has officially attributed the murder to a false flag operation conducted by Pretoria — whereby a mole in the ANC ordered the killing and, with its perpetrators’ subsequent execution, achieved for the white government “a triple murder … without firing a single shot themselves.”

A murky affair by any standard, and one that may not be entirely buried. There’s been some attempt (hotly disputed) to establish a sinister (if vague) alternate hypothesis linking current South African President Jacob Zuma himself to the Langa murder.

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1962: Marthinus Rossouw, for services rendered

5 comments June 20th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1962, Marthinus Rossouw was hanged in Pretoria after an unusual defense strategy failed to repel a headline-grabbing murder charge.

Rossouw shot dead Baron Dieterich Joachim Gunther von Schauroth, a rich farmer (dude was born in a castle) who had been forced into city living by a long run of drought and was known for the life expectancy-compromising habit of toting around large sums of cash.

Rossouw insisted at trial that the killing had been at Von Schauroth’s own instigation, so freighted with care was the victim’s life that he implored his younger friend to end it. The defendant hoped thereby to mitigate the sentence as a case of murder by consent.*

Whether telling the truth or not, Rossouw didn’t make a very credible witness; caught in several lies and omissions, and naturally lacking any corroborating witness to the alleged murder pact, the jury gave him no slack.

Neither did the noose.

* The proper legal handling of a case where the victim of a homicide has freely desired to die is a longstanding salami-slicing juridical problem — witness a whole chapter in an 1897 British primer on consent issues in the law.

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1989: Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris

7 comments June 2nd, 2009 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site. The images accompanying this post are also provided by Mr. Clark. -ed.)

Sandra Smith was the last woman to be hanged in South Africa (with her boyfriend Yassiem Harris).

Background.

Sandra Smith was a 22-year-old coloured woman (official South African designation during the apartheid era) who was married to a trawlerman called Philip and had two small children. Philip spent long periods at sea and sent money back for Sandra and the children. She began having an affair with Yassiem Harris, who was 3 years her junior, in the autumn of 1983 and soon they were deeply in love. Harris had been involved in crime since the age of 13 and had convictions for theft and fraud and was also a drug user. Philip found out about the affair from his neighbours and in March of 1986, he finally threw Sandra out. She and Harris now began living together in a rented apartment but soon the money that Philip used to give her ran out and their finances became tight.

The crime.

To make ends meet, they tried renting video recorders from shops and then selling them but this didn’t net them any real money. Harris, who was unemployed, also spent time hanging about outside a girl’s school and got to know some of the girls, including Jermaine Abrahams. He soon found out where she lived and from his conversations with Jermaine, he concluded that her family were quite wealthy.

They hatched a plan to break into the Abrahams’ family home and steal her mother’s jewelry and anything else of value. Harris had also found out that her parents left for work at 7.00 a.m. in the morning and she left for school about 7.40 a.m.

The victim, Jermaine Abrahams.

Smith and Harris arrived at the house about 7.30 a.m. on September the 1st, 1986, and Harris was let in by Jermaine on the pretext of him wanting to use the telephone. They tied Jermaine up but were disturbed by someone knocking at the door. She started to shout for help and struggle so they then tried to strangle her with a dish cloth. Harris now fetched a knife from the kitchen and repeatedly stabbed Jermaine in the neck. Amazingly, she didn’t die from her injuries and managed to get to her feet and stagger a few paces before collapsing. Harris carried Jermaine to her parents bedroom and made her show him where the jewelry and valuables were kept. He wrapped the poor girl in a duvet and then cut her throat, leaving her to bleed to death. He and Smith collected up what they wanted and then left the house.

Two weeks later, while Smith was being questioned by the police regarding the video scam, she surprised the interviewing officer by confessing to the killing of Jermaine. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with it,” she said. In her statement she told the police, “He pulled the scarf tight across her mouth and then cut her throat.”

On the 15th of September 1986, Sandra Smith was formally charged with the murder and 5 days later Harris was arrested and also charged with it.

Trial.

At their committal hearing at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrates’ Court on the 23rd of September, they pleaded guilty to murder, alternatively to culpable homicide, and to stealing R2,000 worth of jewelry.

They were tried together at the Cape Town Supreme Court on December the 1st, 1986, before Mr. Justice Munnik, the Judge-President of the Cape Court, and two assessors. South Africa did not use the jury system, although its court proceedings were based upon British law, but instead a system of a judge and assessors. Both were represented by counsel and both attempted to shift the blame on to the other. Smith maintained that Harris had done the actual killing and Harris claimed to have been dominated by Smith, although they both admitted being present during the murder.

Sandra Smith was embarrassed by the revelations of her sex life with Harris in court and seemed at times more concerned with these than the fact that she was on trial for her life.

Having heard all the evidence, Mr. Justice Munnik gave a full reasoned judgement in which he described Harris as “an appalling witness.” He said it was clear that it was Harris who had stabbed the girl and slit her throat to prevent her identifying them. He also rejected Harris’ defence claim that he been dominated by Smith which had been refuted by the psychiatrist giving evidence for the prosecution. He accepted that Smith was demanding but not dominant, and there was no evidence to indicate that she forced Harris to kill Jermaine, nor that she had done anything to prevent the murder. He thus concluded that they were both equally responsible for the crime under the doctrine of “common purpose.” Thus on the 11th of December 1986, they were both formally convicted of the murder of Jermaine Abrahams and with robbery with aggravating circumstances and remanded for sentence.

Eleven days later they were brought back to the court and received the mandatory sentence for murder — that they be hanged by the neck until they were dead. Additionally, Harris received a 10-year prison sentence for robbery and Smith was given seven years for it. Sandra Smith became hysterical when she was sentenced to death and had to be taken struggling and screaming to the cells.

They were transferred to the country’s only death row, at Pretoria Central Prison, a modern facility on the outskirts of the capital where all South African executions were carried out. Their appeals were turned down and the review of the trial transcripts to determine whether to recommend that the state president grant clemency carried out by the Ministry of Justice failed to find any mitigating circumstances. As clemency was not forthcoming, their execution date was set for the 2nd of June 1989. Apparently, only around one in 50 people convicted of homicide were actually hanged at this time, the majority serving a prison sentence.

Execution.

At 6.50 a.m. on that morning, Smith was taken to meet Harris for the first time in over two and a half years. Together with two other men who had been convicted of murder, they were led the 52 steps to the pre-execution room next to the gallows. The death warrants were read to them and they were given the opportunity to say their last words. Their hands were handcuffed behind them and white hoods placed over their heads, these having a flap at the front which was left up until the last moment.

They were now led forward by warders into the large and brightly lit execution room. It was some 40 feet long with white painted walls. They would have seen the gallows beam running the length of the room and the 7 large metal eyes from which the four nooses dangled. (Seven prisoners could and often were hanged at once on this gallows.) The picture shows very much what Smith and Harris would have seen as they were led to the gallows. The chain hoist on the middle metal eye is used for raising the trapdoors after an execution.

They were positioned side by side, on painted footprints over the divide of the trap and held by warders while the hangman placed the nooses around their necks. He then turned down the hood flaps and when all was ready, pulled the lever plummeting them through the huge trapdoors.

They were left to hang for 15 minutes before being stripped and examined by a doctor in the room below. Once death had been certified, the bodies were washed off with a hose and the water allowed to drain into a large gully in the floor. A warder put a rope around each of their bodies and with a pulley lifted them to allow the rope to be taken off. They were then lowered onto a stretcher and placed directly into their coffins before taken to a public cemetery for burial.

Although executions in South Africa were held in private, the procedure was described in detail by the then hangman, Chris Barnard, in an interview before he died. He officiated at over 1,500 hangings there.

South Africa hanged 1,123 people at Pretoria Central prison between 1980 and 1989, Solomon Ngobeni being the last on November 14th, 1989. Surprisingly perhaps, almost all of these were for “ordinary” murders rather than politically motivated crimes and most attracted very little publicity.

According to the South African Department of Correctional Services, two other coloured women were hanged for murder in the years 1969 to 1989, Gertie Fourie, on the 20th of May 1969 and Roos de Vos, on the 12th of December 1986. A total of 14 women were executed between 1959 & 1989, out of a total of 2,949 hangings.

President De Klerk ordered a moratorium on executions in 1990 and capital punishment was abolished altogether by the incoming black government of Nelson Mandela on the 7th of June 1995.

Comment.

We cannot know why Smith and Harris went to the Abrahams’ home while they knew Jermaine would still be there or whether they had actually formed any intention to kill her. Neither of them had any record of violence prior to the murder. My guess is that they panicked when she started to call for help from the person who knocked on the door and they tried to silence her. However, it seems hard to believe that Harris really thought she wouldn’t identify him to the police as soon as they had left and he may well have decided to kill her for this reason. It is claimed that Smith wanted Jermaine dead as she was jealous of her having some sort of relationship with Harris. In any event, Jermaine suffered a horrible and agonising death at their hands.

We cannot know, either, which one of them did the actual killing or whether they both took equal part in it. But there was clear “common purpose” established under law, and there were no obvious mitigating circumstances to allow the state to reduce the sentence on either of them. South Africa had the highest rate of judicial execution in the world during the 80’s so they would surely have known the penalty for murder but like so many people, gave no thought to it until it was too late.

Sadly, it is so typical of the kind of brutal and senseless murder that happens all too frequently and one that led to cruel deaths for three young people.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Africa,Theft,Women

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1983: Simon Thelle Mogoerane, Jerry Mosololi and Marcus Motaung, anti-apartheid soldiers

31 comments June 9th, 2008 Headsman

This date at dawn in 1983, three African National Congress cadres were hanged — together with two unrelated common criminals — for attacks on apartheid-era South African police stations.

“Terrorists” in the eyes of the white government and “freedom fighters” in the eyes of many blacks, the “Moroka Three” — Simon Thelle Mogoerane, Jerry Mosololi and Marcus Motaung — bore arms against as part of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

Their attacks in 1979 and 1981 had claimed the lives of four (black) policemen.

South African law until 1990 mandated hanging for a murder conviction without any extenuating circumstances — a “fact associated with the crime which serves in the mind of reasonable men to diminish morally, albeit not legally, the degree of the prisoner’s guilt.” The courtroom adjunct to MK’s guerrilla operations was establishing its position that its soldiers were prisoners of war under international law, and that that classification constituted an extenuating circumstance under South African law.

1977 protocols had extended the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of prisoners of war to explicitly cover anti-colonial and anti-racist insurgents. South Africa, unsurprisingly, did not ratify this amendment. The judge dismissed the argument that these protocols had acquired the binding force of customary international law — “we do not need to waste time.”

A decade or so later, in the waning years of apartheid, this sort of argument would find a toehold. But not in a defiantly “anti-terrorist” Pretoria of the early eighties.

The three were hanged in the face of worldwide appeals for clemency — such as this one from U.S. Congressmen and -women, and the pamphlet below by the British Anti-Apartheid Movement:

The entirety of this 24-page pamphlet is available free (at least for the remainder of this month) at the Aluka collection of digital Africa-related documents.

The executions likewise met outcry both domestic (South Africa banned public demonstrations) and international (like this U.N. resolution).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,South Africa,Torture,Treason

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