news analysis advocacy
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Print this page

Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

USA: African Immigrant on Trial
Any links to other sites in this file from 1996 are not clickable,
given the difficulty in maintaining up-to-date links in old files.
However, we hope they may still provide leads for your research.
USA: African Immigrant on Trial
Date Distributed (ymd): 960910

A South African youth is facing the death penalty in the state
of Mississippi, on charges which critics contend have little
basis. The youth has only a court-appointed attorney.  His
trial, currently scheduled to begin on October 14, has been
moved to a county notorious for racial bias. A defense
committee has been formed, headed by noted South African
anti-apartheid campaigner Dennis Brutus.  The National
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), which has
taken up the case, is trying to raise support and funds to
hire an independent attorney.

The following case brief was prepared by the NCADP.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)
August 24, 1996

Azi Kambule: A South African 10th Grader Facing the Death
Penalty in Mississippi

Azi's Background

Azikiwe Kambule was born and raised in the black township of
Soweto, directly outside of Johannesburg in South Africa. When
Azi was 10-years-old, his parents moved to Spruitview, where
he attended the Ridge School. Initially, school officials were
concerned with Azi's admittance because he, like many children
in Soweto, had missed many days of formal instruction on
account of school boycotts in protest of Apartheid. These
concerns were quickly alleviated. Azi not only performed well
in his classes, but found the time to participate actively in
sports and sing in the school choir. After matriculating at
the Ridge School, Azi attended Parktown Boys and was an
exceptional student there as well.

In January of 1994, when he was 15-years-old, Azi moved with
his parents to Jackson, Mississippi. They came to the United
States because Azi's mother, Busisiwe, had a scholarship to
obtain a Bachelor's degree at Jackson State University in
Psychology. Azi's father, Michael, joined the family a year
later. Unable to find employment before his visitor's visa
expired, Mike returned to South Africa a year later determined
to find a job that would enable him to hire proper counsel for
his son.

Although Azi had done well in the rigorous educational program
at the Ridge School and Parktown Boys, the school authorities
in Mississippi nevertheless required him to be held back. Azi
was placed in 8th grade at the Chastain Middle School in
Jackson. Far from being educationally deficient, Azi was
accepted into the honors French class.

In 1995, Azi began 9th grade at Jackson's Murrah High School.
He performed well in his classes during his freshman year and
enjoyed singing in the school choir. While Azi had no
difficulty adjusting academically, there were social problems.
Because of his foreign accent and mannerisms, his peers would
make fun of him. These social pressures mounted by the time
Azi reached the 10th grade. Wanting to be accepted, Azi
befriended a group of older youth who spent little time in
class but were very street-wise. When his grades began to
fall, Azi's parents decided to scrape together the funds to
send him to Piney Woods, a well-respected boarding school for
black youth outside of Jackson. Azi was set to begin at this
new school when tragedy struck.

Events Leading to Azi's Arrest:

On January 25, 1996, Azi was riding in a car driven by
Santonio Berry, a man in his early twenties with a history of
criminal behavior.

According to Azi's statement to the police, Berry saw Pam
McGill drive by in a red sports car and stated that he wanted
the vehicle. Berry drove behind Ms. McGill, and when she
pulled into her apartment building's parking lot, he got our
of his car with a gun. Berry forced Ms. McGill to move into
the passenger seat of her vehicle and told Azi to get in the
back. Berry then drove from Jackson into neighboring Madison
County. He stopped the car, instructed Ms. McGill to come with
him and told Azi to stay in the car. Berry took Ms. McGill
deep in to the woods. Azi could not see or hear them. He also
could not leave because he did not know how to drive the car.
Eventually, Berry returned saying that he had shot Ms. McGill.

Azi was arrested approximately one week later when an
informant notified police that Berry had been trying to sell
Ms. McGill's car. From the moment of his arrest, Azi was
cooperative. He took the police out several times to where he
thought Berry had stopped McGill's car. Azi -- a child from a
foreign county with no drivers license, no car, and no
knowledge of the area beyond Jackson -- was unable to pinpoint
the location. Eventually, some two months later, Berry took
the police to the crime scene.

It was only then that authorities were able to verify that Ms.
McGill had been killed. Azi was then charged as an accomplice
to capital murder. This despite the fact that he had no
criminal history; was not at the crime scene; and had
cooperated fully with the authorities.

Madison County and The Impossibility of a Fair Trial:

The Hinds County prosecutor, Ed Peters, purposely moved Azi's
trial to Madison County to increase the chance of a death
sentence. As reported in the local paper, Peters stated that
he was moving the trial because the "jurors in [predominantly
black] Hinds County have a reputation for refusing to vote for
the death penalty."

Madison County has become a refuge community for white police
and civil servants seeking to create a racially exclusive
environment. Middle-class families in Madison tend to live in
private communities where entry is limited and private
security companies often share the beat with local police. In
the towns where there is some Black presence-- such as Canton,
the county seat -- public schools are almost devoid of white
pupils. White children in these areas are routinely sent to
low-cost private Christian academies to thwart efforts at
school desegregation.

Nor surprisingly, Madison County is the setting for John
Grisham's A Time To Kill. Like neighboring Simpson County --
made famous in the late 1980s and early 1990s by the frequency
with which young black inmates were found hanging by their
belts and shoelaces -- law enforcement in Madison County has
historically been racially biased.

In 1995, for example, amid wide-spread accusations of voter
fraud and intimidation, federal agents had to be brought in to
relieve the Sheriff's department of their election monitoring
duties. The Black candidate for mayor of Canton had been
expected to win and become the first African American to hold
the post since Reconstruction. Under federal supervision, a
new election was held. Shortly thereafter, Canton inaugurated
its first Black mayor in over a century.

Earlier, in 1971, the Mississippi Supreme Court documented
clear instances in which Madison County officials had
systematically excluded Blacks from jury rolls -- decades
after the United States Supreme Court declared the practice
unconstitutional. Civil rights groups and defense attorneys
say that prosecutors in counties like Madison still routinely
remove Blacks from juries in capital trials.

The Criminal Justice System in Mississippi:

Why is Azi-- a child with no criminal record (or history of
violence), an honor student and someone who cooperated fully
with the police-- being tried for capital murder? The answer
lies in the political rewards of seeking the death penalty.

It is not uncommon for prosecutors to use high profile cases
to propel themselves into higher office. Madison County
District Attorney John Kitchens sees his political future as
being intimately linked with his ability to get harsh
sentences in well publicized cases. This view pervades
Mississippi politics.

Mississippi Governor has stated unequivocally that he intends
to make Mississippi "the capital of capital punishment." For
Fordice, the future of law enforcement and social control lies
rooted in the past. Fordice has removed radios and televisions
from prisons and reintroduced "zebra suits" as inmate
uniforms. He also supported legislation that would have
required violent criminals to receive six months of mandatory
flogging upon entry into the state penitentiary. After
Fordice's changes were implemented, the state penitentiary
system experienced its biggest inmate riots in years.

Seeking the death penalty against Black youth under
circumstances like Azi's which do not warrant such extreme
punishment is not rare in Mississippi. In the late 1980s a
Black teenage mother, Sabrina Butler, was sentenced to death
for allegedly bludgeoning her baby. Sabrina's claim that she
had given failed CPR to her baby was not only ignored, but
used to argue that she had no shame. Only when private
attorneys and medical experts intervened was it determined
that Sabrina was telling the truth. After spending years
fighting to clear her name and facing execution, Sabrina was
found innocent and released. She left Mississippi's death row
this year.

Children on Death Row in the U.S.: A Human Rights Violation
and Racially Biased:

The situation in which Azi finds himself speaks volumes about
the use of the death penalty against children. During this
decade, only five nations in the world are known to have
executed persons for crimes they committed when under
18-years-old. Those countries are Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi
Arabia . . . and the United States. Of these five, America has
executed the most. A condemned child in the United States also
tends to be of darker hue -- 66% of those persons sentenced to
death as children have been from racial minorities. In this
century, 75% of all persons sentenced to death as children
have been African American. Of the nine girls sentenced to
death in the history of the United States, eight were African
American and one was Native American. Given these racially
biased statistics, it is not surprising that Azi has been
chosen for the death penalty.

And nowhere is the international rule of law more clear than
the prohibition on the use of the death penalty against
children. Nearly every major human rights treaty in the world
expressly forbids sentencing children to death. Significantly,
the United Nations Covenant on Rights of the Child, which the
US has signed, clearly states: "Neither capital punishment nor
life imprisonment without possibility of parole shall be
imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years
of age" If the Madison County prosecutor is successful in his
attempt to convict Azi as an accomplice to capital murder,
either of the possible sentences will violate international
human rights standards.

Denied Bail, Azi Tries to Better Himself and Avoid Danger:

Although Azi had no history of violence or arrest, he was
denied bail. He is currently being housed in the Madison
County Jail. Since incarceration, Azi has continued his
studies, having passed with high marks the initial tests for
a general equivalency high school diploma. Azi has also
received a letter of commendation from a correspondence Bible
school. While trying to make the best of his terrible
situation, Azi is also in great danger. As noted earlier, the
Mississippi jail system has a history of Black teens being
found dead in their cells. The occurrence has been so
prevalent that the United States Department of Justice
conducted a full-scale investigation just a few years ago.

Azi is in particular danger because he has been assigned to
share a cell with a person who has already been convicted of
a crime. It is against the law to keep pre-trial detainees
like Azi in the same cell with persons who have already been
found guilty. Azi's cellmate continuously harasses Azi and
threatens to do bodily harm to him. Azi has also been denied
access to a spiritual adviser. His minister was suddenly
denied access to visit with Azi; this is the first time in all
his years of visiting persons in jail has the minister ever
been stopped from going inside. Additionally, Azi has been
denied proper access to a telephone. The phone has been broken
for several weeks, making it impossible for him to call his

Four Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Save Azi:

1) Forward this Message to All of Your Friends and Press

2) Write the District Attorney:
---Azi is a South African child who has no history of violence
or prior run-ins with the law; was so far away from the murder
that he did not even hear the gun shots; and has fully
cooperated with the police. There is no reason why DA Kitchens
should be seeking to kill him or put him behind bars for the
rest of his life!
P.O. BOX 121/ CANTON, MS 39046/ (601) 859-8880-fax /(601)

Please contact the following news organizations:
--Clarion-Ledger Newspaper: "Mississippi's Newspaper" -

--WLBT T.V. News -

--Jackson Advocate Newspaper: "The Voice of Black
Mississippians", 300 N.Farish Street, Jackson,MS 39202 - Fax:
(601) 948-4125

4) Contact the NCADP to join the campaign.
--Inquiries and contributions should be directed to:
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (attn: Ben
Jealous), 918 "F" Street, NW Suite 601, Washington, DC 20004;
(202) 347-2411, ext. 16; E-mail:

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational
affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant
information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and


URL for this file: