The justice minister Thursday 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 Thursday 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 Thursday 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.
Also Wednesday, Botha commuted the death sentences of four white policemen, all of whom had been sentenced to hang for murder, the Justice Ministry said. They will serve terms ranging from 15 years to 25 years.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu suggested Thursday 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.