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Open letter to President Masisi - On the death penalty

KGOSIETSILE NGAKAAGAE
I received with disappointment the news that you had signed the death warrant of Mooketsi Kgosibodiba, that cruel murderer.

I wish that some day I could have a conversation with you on the death penalty. For now, I have decided to pen you this open letter.

Let me just say that I have lived a life of capital prosecution and defence, Mr. President. Indulge me therefore to seek your audience on the subject. It is not a good experience. It is draining, emotionally. These deceased were like me. They had dreams, they were loved by their families, and had beautiful children. I caution myself that somewhere, a family is grieving. My heart breaks and I weep. I have looked at clients and felt my blood boil with rage. I have literally sworn at them and virtually kicked tables. That is the outrage murder invokes in all right thinking people and I am no exception. By the way, there is neither money nor pleasure in capital defence. I have done most capital cases pro deo. Rich people and their children are hardly ever under threat of capital punishment. It’s a punishment for the poor. There is no escape from that fact. So when people tell me it’s about money, I feel like weeping.

Well, I do not judge them, Mr. President. They speak from genuine hurt. I appreciate that they do not know that it’s all about human life. That, it is about a deeper personal conviction. Anger has blinded them to the reality that there is more about a human being than their worst actions. I always say, what would Christ do? Would he turn these distraught parents and this filthy murderer away? Would he shut the door on their faces? Fortunately, the Bible supplies countless examples from which to learn. I vote Christ’s way. Always.

True, Mr President, I am 100 percent anti-death penalty. But just like you, I have sometimes looked at offenders and felt like they deserved to be killed. I have felt like the only reason why they were alive was because it was illegal to kill them. I’m human, after all; I have loved ones. I know I can lose them to a murderer. I just keep praying I do not. Like the rest of my people, I am afraid.

As such, I do not take for granted the pain and immeasurable loss of the bereaved. But it’s a matter over which only God has control. I have walked into court and looked at the teary eyes of families that have lost their loved ones and felt like hugging them. Yes, I have asked what would happen if someone killed my very own. God forbid it does but if in fact happens, please don’t avenge

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me by death, Mr. President. I have made up my mind that I shall refuse to be a savage. I refuse that hurt and fear should turn me into a thoughtless brute. I have made up my mind that the shedding of human blood cannot appease me.

By the way, I have supported the death penalty, Mr. President. I have defended it everywhere. My former employer always deployed me for public death penalty debates.  It has been a journey and my doubts started then when I was a prosecutor. After tens of murder prosecutions and death penalty cases, I stood the trial of the conscience. As hard as I tried, there were things I couldn’t ignore: how pointless the punishment; how woefully incapable of class neutral application the penalty; how biblically indefensible the practice; how dehumanising and savage the planned shedding of human blood; how imperfect the system, and how full of self-deceit its defence was.

I cannot judge those who desire it. I know many Batswana speak out of genuine hurt and anger. But I know that “this world has been one long slaughterhouse from its beginning till today” and that the death penalty will never stop killings. It is vanity of vanities, Mr. President. The death penalty, is vanity.

The other day I was reading the submission by Clarence Darrow in the trial of Leopold and Loeb. These were his words;

“My Lord you may hang these boys. You may hang them by their necks until they die. Today it would be the easy and popular thing to do. The cruel and thoughtless will applaud. But others; the kind and the humane; those who are gaining an understanding of this tragedy; who are not only thinking of the immediate fate of these boys but the ultimate fate of their own. They will join in no acclaim when these boys are taken to be hanged. They will ask that the shedding of blood must stop. I am not speaking so much for these boys as I am for the infinite number of others to follow; it is of them that I am thinking and for them that I am begging this court not to turn us towards the cruel and barbarous past. I speak for the future. I speak for a time when hatred and cruelty shall not govern the hearts of men. When with love and understanding we can look inside our human hearts and learn that all life is worth saving; and that mercy is the highest attribute of man”. I ask that you pronounce a moratorium on the death penalty, Mr. President. It is vanity.



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