Before South Africa abolished the death penalty on this day in 1995, it hanged the last woman in the country in 1989.
Her name was Sandra Smith and she was just 24 when she ended up in the hangman’s noose. Her crime: murder.
Sandra had been classified as coloured under the Apartheid government, meaning that she was from a mixed-race background.
Since her husband Phillip, a trawlerman spent too long at sea, Sandra started an affair with Yassiem Harris, who was three years her junior. After Phillip found out about the affair, he threw Sandra out. She went ahead to live with Harris in a rented flat, but soon money became a problem.
Harris, who had been hanging out with some school-going girls found out that one of the girls, Jermaine Abrahams was not only wealthy but would be alone in her parents’ house.
Harris and Sandra hatched a plan to rob the house. They arrived at the home one early morning before Jermaine went to school. They were let in after they lied that they wanted to use the phone.
Once in, they tied Jermaine up but were interrupted by a knock on the door. Jermaine started shouting, only for Harris to try and strangle her with a dishcloth. She still refused to let the two know where her mother was hiding her precious jewellery.
In court, Harris said:
“I began throttling her with a dishcloth but she still refused to talk. She wriggled for a few seconds, made some gurgling sounds, and then lay still.”
Jermaine passed out and when she revived, she was crying but still refused to talk. Sandra became furious asking Harris to stab her with a kitchen knife.
I started stabbing Jermaine continuously in the neck. I saw blood coming out of her neck. I looked at Sandra and she was smiling. Jermaine was lying on the floor on her stomach and she wriggled on to her back, but I still went on stabbing her.
Jermaine did not die from the wounds, and even successfully wiggled away from her would-be murderers. Harris carried her to her mother’s bedroom, forcing her to show them what they had come for. They wrapped her in a sheet, hoping she would die.
However, once they collected the valuables, Harris turned to Jermaine and slit her throat. His justification:
I realised that she would not die from the stab wounds so I closed my eyes and slit her throat.
According to Sandra, Harris killed the schoolgirl so that she would not identify them.
Two weeks after the murder, Sandra was brought into a police station in relation to a different robbery but during interrogation, she confessed to the murder of Abrahams.
The two were arrested and arraigned in court and they pleaded guilty to murder, alternatively to culpable homicide, and to stealing $156 worth of jewellery.
The court judged that they be hanged by the neck until they were dead. The judge also sent Harris and Sandra to 10 and seven years in prison respectively.
The two did not see each other until June 2, 1989, when they were heading to the gallows. They were hanged together with two other people.
Prior to her hanging, South Africa had hang 13 other women for a number of crimes including the murder of their husbands.