ZIMBABWE DESPERATE FOR A HANGMAN
April 13, 2010: 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.
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.
About 70 people are believed to have been executed since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980. (Sources: The Guardian, Daily News, 13/04/2010)