n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Perceptions of the death penalty

Volume 16, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



This study of perceptions of the death penalty takes cognisance of both perspectives of abolitionists and retentionists. Abolitionists argue that the death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading and is actually in contravention of the South African Constitution. Retentionists argue that the death penalty serves the purpose of "just deserts" and is necessary to curb serious crime such as murder, rape and armed robbery. Penological and philosophical perspectives of the death penalty are discussed. Two types of sentences, imprisonment and capital punishment, are highlighted together with the goals of sentencing : Retribution (the model) and rehabilitation (a more productive outcome of sentencing), incapacitation and deterrence. In 1995, capital punishment was declared unconstitutional in South Africa in , and in 1997, finally abolished in . Philosophers argue that the state, as a social contract, exists for the sake of social order. Henceforth, this discussion revolves around a search for greater clarity about the death penalty. For this reason, utilitarian, retributive and integrative theories of punishment are also brought into play to supplement the present debate. Empirically, an explorative-descriptive analysis of data collected at an institution of higher learning in northern KwaZulu-Natal, shows a positive attitude towards the death penalty for murder (with aggravating circumstances), rape, armed robbery and vehicle hijacking. Respondents are also in favour of capital punishment for murderers of policemen, private security guards and farmers. A strong feeling exists among respondents for the reinstatement of the death penalty to curb the incidence of murder in South Africa. Further, capital punishment is significantly perceived to be tantamount to the notion of "an eye for an eye" (), and has, as such, a definite deterrent value. Moderate to weak support exists for life imprisonment and the opportunity it offers for rehabilitating murderers.

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