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Hang on, there's a noose vacancy

THE 15 convicted killers and armed robbers languishing on Swaziland's Death Row could be forgiven for getting a touch complacent about their appeals. It is 15 years since the country last carried out an execution.

But there is bad news, boys. Chief Maweni Simelane, the chief justice minister, has advertised in the local press for a "brave young man who has what it takes" to become the country's new hangman.

The official line is that if a country has a death sentence then, theoretically, it must have someone prepared to hang 'em high. But the development is a little ominous since Swaziland has managed perfectly well without an executioner since the mid 1980s when the then hangman - a South African - apparently threw in the towel, bored beyond endurance by several nooseless years.

What has prompted the justice minister's quest for a hangman is unclear. He may be firing a warning shot over the heads of perpetrators or perhaps spearheading a right-wing campaign to persuade King Sobhuza II to get tougher on criminals. Since he came to power in 1986 at the age of 18 the king, who has final say on whether an execution can be carried out, has never sanctioned one.

Chief Simelane claims that the issue has been forced because of a sudden increase in the number of death sentences being handed down by courts.

"We've never actually officially dropped the practice [hanging] but no criminals were sentenced to death by out courts since the hangman ran off," Chief Simelane said. "It is just recently that the court have started imposing the death sentence again."