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South Africa Bans Death Penalty

On June 6, 1995, the Constitu tional Court of South Africa issued a ruling banning capital punishment in that country. The court was established earlier this year to interpret South Africa's new constitution, the first to guarantee equal rights for all citizens. During the negotiations that led to the apartheid regime surrendering political power while being allowed to keep its economic wealth, the issue of capital punishment could not be resolved. So instead of being mentioned in the new constitution it was left up to the courts to decide. The African National Congress Party, led by Nelson Mandela, was opposed to the death penalty because in the past it had been used almost solely against blacks and was frequently used against ANC members and other political activists during the long struggle against the apartheid regime.

Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson delivered the ruling for the eleven member court which held that the death penalty was inconsistent with the constitutional right to life. The ruling will benefit a total of 453 prisoners currently sentenced to death. Their sentences will be commuted to life in prison. Since the ANC took office South Africa has been faced with a crime wave in large part due to the fact that economic conditions of the black majority have not changed. An average of 50 people were murdered every day last year throughout the country.

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