S v Makwanyane and Another/Madala J
Madala J: I am in agreement with the views expressed in the judgment of Chaskalson P and with his decision on the unconstitutionality of the death penalty. The punishment, is in my view, clearly offensive to the cardinal principles for which our Constitution stands.
However, while I concur, as aforesaid, I believe that there are some additional matters that need to be mentioned and aspects that should be emphasised, and I proceed to do so briefly.
The death penalty is unique. As stated by Stewart J in Furman v Georgia 408 US at 306:
"The penalty of death differs from all other forms of criminal punishment, not in degree but in kind. It is unique in its total irrevocability. It is unique in its rejection of rehabilitation of the convict as a basic purpose of criminal justice. And it is unique, finally, in its absolute renunciation of all that is embodied in our concept of humanity."
This statement was more recently (1991) re-affirmed by Scalia J, who delivered the judgment of the court in Harmelin v Michigan 501 US 957, and noted that even the most severe sentence of life imprisonment cannot compare with death.
"... there is a need for understanding but not vengeance, and for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not victimisation."
The concept "ubuntu" appears for the first time in the post-amble, but it is a concept that permeates the Constitution generally and more particularly Chapter Three which embodies the entrenched fundamental human rights. The concept carries in it the ideas of humaneness, social justice and fairness.
It was argued by Mr Bizos, on behalf of the Government, that the post-amble enjoins the people of South Africa to open a new chapter which envisages the country playing a leading role in the upholding of human rights. He submitted further, that the Government favoured the abolition of the death penalty because it believed that such punishment could not be reconciled with the fundamental rights contained in the Constitution, and that its application diminished the dignity of our society as a whole.
In my rejection of the death penalty as a form of punishment, I do not intend, nor do my colleagues, to condone murder, rape, armed robbery with aggravating circumstances and those other crimes which are punishable by a sentence of death in terms of Section 277 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977. These criminal acts are, and remain, as heinous, vicious and as reprehensible as they ever were, and do not belong in civilised society. The death penalty is a punishment which involves so much pain and suffering that civilised society ought not to tolerate it even in spite of the present high rate of crime. And society ought to tolerate the death penalty even less when considering that it has not been proved that it has any greater deterrent effect on would-be murderers than life imprisonment.
As observed before, the death penalty rejects the possibility of rehabilitation of the convicted persons, condemning them as "no good", once and for all, and drafting them to the death row and the gallows. One must then ask whether such rejection of rehabilitation as a possibility accords with the concept of ubuntu.
One of the relative theories of punishment (the so-called purposive theories) is the reformative theory, which considers punishment to be a means to an end, and not an end in itself—that end being the reformation of the criminal as a person, so that the person may, at a certain stage, become a normal law-abiding and useful member of the community once again. The person and the personality of the offender are the point of focus rather than the crime, although the crime is, however, not forgotten. And in terms of this theory of punishment and as a necessary consequence of its application, the offender has to be imprisoned for a long period for the purpose of rehabilitation. By treatment and training the offender is rehabilitated, or, at the very least, ceases to be a danger to society.
This, in my view, accords fully with the concept of ubuntu which is so well enunciated in the Constitution.
Our courts have found room for the exercise of ubuntu, as appears from the many cases where they have found that despite the heinousness of the offence and the brutality with which it was perpetrated, there were factors in the offenders' favour, indicating that they were, in spite of the criminal conduct of which they were convicted, responsible members of society, and were worthy and capable of rehabilitation. (See S v Mbotshwa 1993(2) SACR 468(A) at 468J–469F; S v Ramba 1990(2) SACR 334(A) at 335H–336E; S v Ngcobo 1992(2) SACR 515(A) at 515H–516A; Contra: S v Bosman 1992(1) SACR 115(A) at 116G–117F)
Against ubuntu must be seen the other side, the inhuman side of mankind, in terms of which the death penalty violates Section 11(2) of the Constitution in that it is "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
In Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe v Attorney-General, Zimbabwe 1993(4) SA 239(ZSC) at 268E–H, Gubbay CJ, observed:
"From the moment he enters the condemned cell, the prisoner is enmeshed in a dehumanising environment of near hopelessness. He is in a place where the sole object is to preserve his life so that he may be executed. The condemned prisoner is 'the living dead' … He is kept only with other death sentenced prisoners—with those whose appeals have been dismissed and who await death or reprieve; or those whose appeals are still to be heard or are pending judgment. While the right to an appeal may raise the prospect of being allowed to live, the intensity of the trauma is much increased by knowledge of its dismissal. The hope of a reprieve is all that is left. Throughout all this time the condemned prisoner constantly broods over his fate. The horrifying spectre of being hanged by the neck and the apprehension of being made to suffer a painful and lingering death is, if at all, never far from mind. Grim accounts exist of hangings not properly performed."
Convicted persons in death row invariably find themselves there for a long time as they make every effort to exhaust all possible review avenues open to them. All this time they are subjected to a fate of ever increasing fear and distress. They know not what their future is and whether their efforts will come to nought; they live under the sword of Damocles—they will be advised any day about their appointment with the hangman. It is true that they might have shown no mercy at all to their victims, but we do not and should not take our standards and values from the murderer. We must, on the other hand, impose our standards and values on the murderer.
In the aforementioned Zimbabwe case, the court concluded that the incarceration of the condemned person under those conditions was in conflict with the provisions of Section 15(1) of the Zimbabwe Constitution, which like our Constitution, has entrenched guarantees against torture or inhuman and degrading punishment.
The so-called "death row phenomenon" also came under attack in the case of Soering v United Kingdom (1989) 11 EHRR 439.
From the statistics supplied by the Attorney-General and from what one gleans daily from the newspapers and other media, we live at a time when the high crime rate is unprecedented, when the streets of our cities and towns rouse fear and despair in the heart, rather than pride and hope, and this in turn, robs us of objectivity and personal concern for our brethren. But, as Marshall J put it in Furman v Georgia (supra) at 371:
"The measure of a country's greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis."
This, in my view, also accords with ubuntu—and calls for a balancing of the interest of society against those of the individual, for the maintenance of law and order, but not for dehumanising and degrading the individual.
We must stand tallest in these troubled times and realise that every accused person who is sent to jail is not beyond being rehabilitated—properly counselled—or, at the very least, beyond losing the will and capacity to do evil.
A further aspect which I wish to mention is the question of traditional African jurisprudence, and the degree to which such values have not been researched for the purposes of the determination of the issue of capital punishment.
Ms Davids, who appeared on behalf of the Black Advocates Forum, in its capacity as amicus curiae, touched on but did not fully argue this matter.
She submitted that we could not determine the question of the constitutionality or otherwise of the death sentence without reference to further evidence which would include the views, aspirations and opinions of the historically disadvantaged and previously oppressed people of South Africa, who also constitute the majority of our society.
As I understood her argument, the issue of capital punishment could not be determined in an open and democratic society without the active participation of the black majority. This, in my view, would be tantamount to canvassing public opinion among the black population for the decisions of our courts. I do not agree with this submission, if it implies that this Court or any other court must function according to public opinion.
In order to arrive at an answer as to the constitutionality or otherwise of the death penalty or any enactment, we do not have to canvass the opinions and attitudes of the public. Ours is to interpret the provisions of the Constitution as they stand and if any matter is in conflict with the Constitution, we have to strike it down.
We, as judges, are oath bound to defend the Constitution. This obligation, in turn, requires that any enactment of Parliament should be judged by standards laid down by the Constitution. The judiciary has the duty of implementing the constitutional safeguards that protect individual rights. When the State seeks to take away the individual fundamental right to life, the safeguards of the Constitution should be examined with special diligence. When it appears that an act of Parliament conflicts with the provisions of the Constitution, we have no choice but to enforce the paramount commands of the Constitution. We are sworn to do no less.
I agree with Ms Davids' submission about the need to bring in the traditional African jurisprudence to these matters, to the extent that such is applicable, and would not confine such research to South Africa only, but to Africa in general.
For purposes of the determination of the question of the constitutionality of the death penalty, however, it is, in my view, not necessary or even desirable that public opinion should be sought on the matter in the manner she suggests.
In my view, the death penalty does not belong to the society envisaged in the Constitution, is clearly in conflict with the Constitution generally and runs counter to the concept of ubuntu; additionally and just as importantly, it violates the provisions of Section 11(2) of the Constitution and, for those reasons, should be declared unconstitutional and of no force and effect.