1983: Phillipa Mdluli, enterprising businesswoman

It was this date in 1983 that the last hanging (so far) in Swaziland took place — that of 48-year-old Phillipa Mdluli, for ritually killing the daughter of one of her restaurant’s employees.

The True Crime Library’s archive of worldwide hangings reports that

after the girl, Thuli Mabaso, was slaughtered, her body parts were removed and served up in Mdluli’s restaurant, where the bodies of small girls were considered by the customers to be a great delicacy.

It may be no coincidence that this last hanging occurred during the run-up to parliamentary elections later that year, and while executive power in this absolute monarchy had devolved to a fractious regency following the death of the previous king.

When the heir to Swazi throne came of age as Mswati III in 1986, he became known both for clemency and for centralizing power in his own person. Between those two phenomena, there’s not much room for politicians to productively demagogue the issue. And with a population barely north of one million, there are only so many cannibal restauranteurs.

Despite the death penalty’s long abeyance in the small kingdom, Swaziland has been obstinate about not repealing the statute; in 2008, it voted against a UN death penalty moratorium resolution despite the fact that it functionally had a quarter-century moratorium of its own at that point.

But Swaziland does still have prisoners on death row. In an apparent show of empty juridical saber-rattling, Swaziland made a very public international search in the late 1990s for a new “hangperson” (“Women are welcome … I therefore advise them to try their luck”).

On this day..

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