McBride speaks to Sowetan about his experience on death row

15 December 2011 - 08:51
By Zwanga Mukhuthu

THE section of Pretoria Central Prison which houses the infamous gallows, where the likes of Umkhonto weSizwe soldier Solomon Mahlangu was hanged for his fight against apartheid, is to be declared a national museum today.

The death penalty was abolished in 1995 when the Constitutional Court ruled it was unconstitutional.

The museum will honour 134 political prisoners executed during the armed struggle, says Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Yesterday, Magoo's Bar bomber Robert McBride relived his harrowing experience while on death row at the prison in the late 1980s.

McBride had been sentenced to death in 1987 for the bombing of Magoo's Bar in Durban in 1986. Three people died and 69 were injured in the bar, which was patronised by members of the apartheid security forces.

"Over 300 people were executed during my stay in death row," McBride said.

Prisoners were hanged at 7am after they had briefly attended a church service at 6.30am.

"Prisoners would scream and cry, and after the hanging warders would bring back the blood-soaked hoods and order prisoners who were due for execution the following day to wash them.

"For me, death had all become so simple because I never expected any mercy from the government of the day," he said.

McBride relived how they used to defy the orders by the warders for silence and sang freedom songs as the condemned marched down the long passage towards the gallows.

He said the last execution was the most horrific and most unforgettable. The warders had apparently been angered by the decision to grant the Sharpeville Six a stay of execution.

But one prisoner, Boesman Mangena, who had also applied for a stay of execution, was not so lucky. He was actually hanged hours before the normal execution time.

When his lawyers came with his stay of execution later that morning, they were told it was too late.