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Man Gets Stay Of Execution, Sharpeville Six Death Sentences Commuted

November 24, 1988

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ The justice minister today stayed the execution of a young black man, one day after President P.W. Botha commuted the death sentences of the Sharpeville Six in a similar politically charged case.

But five convicted murderers were hanged today in non-political cases, bringing the number of people executed in South Africa this year to 115, three of them white.

Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee granted an indefinite stay to Paul Setlaba hours before he was scheduled to hang this morning, the independent South Africa Press Association quoted Setlaba’s attorney as saying.

The 23-year-old Setlaba was convicted of murder with two younger defendants under the doctrine of common purpose in a 1985 killing during a consumer boycott. The doctrine allows for the conviction of anyone deemed an active participant in a mob that commits murder.

The stay for Setlaba came shortly after the U.N. Security Council urged South Africa to halt the hanging, said United Nations spokesman Francois Giuliani in New York. He said Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar had earlier made a personal appeal to Botha for clemency.

The country’s highest court had rejected a last-minute appeal by Setlaba on Wednesday.

The Sharpeville Six were convicted of a murder that occurred during a 1984 riot that marked the start of two years of nationwide unrest.

The Justice Ministry said Wednesday that the six blacks - five men and a woman - will serve prison terms ranging from 18 to 25 years. The death sentences in 1985 caused worldwide protest.

Botha’s commutation of their death sentences came hours after the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein, the nation’s highest tribunal, unanimously rejected a petition to reopen the trial.

The six were convicted of murder in connection with the September 1984 killing of black town councilor Kuzwayo Dlamini by a mob in Sharpeville, a township south of Johannesburg.

No evidence was presented that they contributed physically to his death. They were convicted under the common purpose doctrine, on grounds of being active participants in the mob that killed Dlamini during rent riots.

The Justice Ministry gave no reason for the president’s commutation and Jack Viviers, a spokesman for Botha, refused comment when reached by The Associated Press.

Also Wednesday, Botha commuted the death sentences of four white policemen, all of whom had been sentenced to hang for murder convictions, the Justice Ministry said. They will serve terms ranging from 15 years to 25 years.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu suggested today that Botha, by reprieving both the Sharpeville Six and the white policemen, was trying to neutralize domestic criticism. Conservative whites had been seeking clemency for the police, whose victims were black and mixed-race.

The attorney for the Sharpeville Six, Prakash Diar, noted Wednesday that there had been intense international pressure on Botha to commute his clients’ death sentences.

″Very important heads of state ... have personally intervened on their behalf and I think that has made a difference,″ Diar said. He named President Reagan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany among those who interceded on behalf of the six.

″I am happy for my clients that the state president has sought to reprieve them, but I am astonished at the number of years they are going to be spending in prison,″ he added.

Hassie Mokgesi, father of Sharpeville Six defendant Francis Mokgesi, said, ″They should have decided to let the boys come home.″

Anti-apartheid groups in South Africa, international human rights organizations and numerous foreign governments had urged Botha to grant clemency to the Sharpeville Six.

The Sharpeville Six are: Mokgesi, 31; Reid Mokoena, 24; Oupa Moses Diniso, 32; Duma Joshua Khumlao, 28; Reginald Sefatsa, 32; and Theresa Ramashamola, 27.

The group, convicted in 1985, spent 1,076 days on Death Row.

The riots in Sharpeville and neighboring townships marked the start of more than two years of nationwide black unrest. Activists frequently targeted township councilors for attack, saying they were collaborators with the white- led government and its apartheid policies of racial segregation.

The five men hanged at Pretoria Central Prison today were three of mixed race and two blacks. The Prison Service said 49 Death Row prisoners have been granted reprieves by Botha, and more than 200 others still face execution.

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