Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa attends a meeting of the Zanu-PF central committee in downtown Harare in this December 14 2017 file photo. Picture: REUTERS
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa attends a meeting of the Zanu-PF central committee in downtown Harare in this December 14 2017 file photo. Picture: REUTERS

Harare — President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was saved from the hangman’s noose as a teenager, has effectively commuted some death-row inmates’ sentences to life‚ as part of a presidential pardon of 3‚000 prisoners in over-crowded Zimbabwean prisons.

In January, there were 99 death-row inmates in Zimbabwe‚ with one of them being a woman — Yvonne Musarurwa‚ an MDC-T activist jailed for killing a police officer in 2013 before that year’s general elections.

As part of the clemency‚ all female inmates will be released and Musarurwa will be a beneficiary.

"Commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment is hereby granted to all prisoners who have been on death row for 10 years and above‚" he said. Zimbabwe last carried out an execution in 2005.

Last year, former president Robert Mugabe revealed that his cabinet was divided on the issue. "We have different views on this matter, even in our cabinet, and even among the three of us: myself I want them killed while (then vice-president Emmerson) Mnangagwa wants leniency. (Vice-president Phelekezela) Mphoko hasn’t divulged his thoughts on this matter‚" Mugabe said‚ before warning that he would resume executions.

Part of the reason why there have been no executions for 18 years is that the previous hangman retired in 2006. In a country with high unemployment‚ there has been interest from both men and women for the "hangman’s" job, but no one has been hired yet.

Mnangagwa himself was saved from the hangman’s noose at the age of 17 by a Catholic priest‚ Father Emmanuel Ribeiro‚ during the colonial era, for bombing a railway line in Masvingo in 1962.

His former boss‚ Mugabe‚ in a media interview last week‚ referred to how he also helped save Mnangagwa from the gallows‚ implying that by taking power through military assistance‚ Mnangagwa was not being grateful.