Job vacancy: male applicants only. Skills required: dexterity, ability to tie a knot, hard heart. Anyone prone to hesitation or mercy need not apply.
Zimbabwe is searching for a hangman. Chikurubi prison, a maximum security facility outside Harare, has been trying to fill the post for five years, but in vain, the Daily News of Zimbabwe reported on Tuesday.
The absence of an executioner is a mixed blessing for 50 condemned men. It is a reprieve, but it is also an agonising and indefinite wait on death row in a jail dubbed a "gulag" because of its inhumane conditions.
Zimbabwe's last hangman quit the post in 2005 after hanging two armed robbers who murdered a prison guard while escaping jail. The job has since remained unfilled, despite unemployment in the country hitting 94% last year.
The Daily News set out the requirements for any would-be Albert Pierrepoint: "Prison officials say the job of a hangman involves techniques and procedures that are very simple to learn. The candidate for the job need not possess any previous experience, neither does he have to be literate. The hangman's job is reserved only for men. The job demands strength and unwavering focus. It is not for the faint-hearted.
"If a hangman is found, jail officials would teach him how to tie the noose and train him to maintain the correct posture while executing, as this is vital."
It added: "But it appears the toughest part of the job is not about ropes and levers. It is about conscience.
"A hangman should never have second thoughts, if he does he should be retired," said a former principal prison officer, who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity.
Lawyers and journalists based in Harare confirmed with the Guardian that the prison has been struggling to find a hangman for years. "We've not had an execution for a long time," one said.
Some death row inmates have languished in solitary confinement for more than a decade. Their petitions for clemency have been rejected by Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president.
Last month, one death row inmate, Shepherd Mazango, challenged the impasse in an appeal to Zimbabwe's Supreme Court. He said: "Among us are George Manyonga who has spent 13 years awaiting execution, James Dube and Bright Gwashinga who have spent 10 and five years respectively, awaiting execution.
"This has caused severe trauma on the inmates that some of them are losing their mind ... Worse still, to think that I can spend 13 years before execution, like my colleague George Manyonga, crushes me."
Chikurubi prison is notorious for its filthy, freezing and overcrowded cells infested by maggots and rats. Former inmates include Simon Mann, a British mercenary, whose lawyer claimed he was tortured, assaulted and endured lice, inedible food and general deprivation there in 2004.
About 70 people are believed to have been executed since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980. The country is under pressure to abolish the death penalty from human rights groups, such as Amnesty International. Last week, an editorial in the state-owned Herald newspaper suggested it is time to reconsider the issue.
In the meantime, there seems little hope of persuading the last executioner, believed to be of Malawian origin, out of retirement. The Daily News's prison source said that he was a reluctant hangman, always extremely remorseful about his job. - guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2010
Friday, 16 April 2010