OBVIOUS Mwaliteta says the justice system in Zambia is pathetic.
And Mwaliteta has revealed that his coincidental incarceration with UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema at Lusaka Central Prison gave him an opportunity to get closer to the opposition leader.
Meanwhile, Mwaliteta says he has lost all he worked for as a member of parliament. Mwaliteta, the former Kafue PF member of parliament who was acquitted on August 8 after being in prison for a year on charges of aggravated robbery, lamented the state of prison life. Mwaliteta and his four co-accused were imprisoned at the Lusaka Central Prison, commonly known as Chimbokaila.
Under Michael Sata’s government, Mwaliteta was rotated to serve as minister in Lusaka, Southern, Western and Central provinces.
Recounting his stay in prison when he featured on Muvi TV’s The Assignment programme on Sunday night, Mwaliteta lamented that it was callous for over 100 inmates to be crammed in a three by five-metre holding cell at the Lusaka Central Prison.
They are very small cells [and] the maximum [number of inmates and remandees] would be 117 or 120. At one point when we used to have a lot of PIs (Prohibited Immigrants), we used to go to about 120. But now the average is 99, 100, 110 [and] there is no sleeping arrangement in that room; there is only sitting arrangement until the following day. There is no space for you to lie down. You can’t stretch your legs, by the way. The justice system in Zambia is pathetic in the sense that there are colleagues that I have left in prison [and] they’ve been there for eight years waiting for trial. Some of them are still on trial – eight years there! There is a colleague, I shed tears [because] he stayed for 10 years and when he went for judgment, he was arrested for one year! Who is going to pay him for the 10 years he stayed in prison (pending adjudication)? It’s pathetic,
“We need a lot of reforms. If you can go to Chimbokaila today and you find out from the inmates how long they’ve been to court… When we went there, I asked somebody ‘when did you last go to court?’ and he told me that the last time I went to court was in 2013. How many witnesses have you dealt with? He said only one! There are inmates I have left there; on vandalism [allegation]; they have been there for 14 years and they are still on trial. They are on standby waiting to be found guilty or not guilty. Imagine! They haven’t been sentenced-Chimbokaila is a mixture of remandees and inmates. If someone is called that today he is going to court, you’ll be shocked to see how he is going to celebrate because he hasn’t been going to court for years. It’s sad that in a new era like this, we still have a justice system like that and even when they were telling us that they have changed to correctional facility, whatever they call it, they just changed the names on the wall – they have not changed anything insid.”
He disclosed that deaths of inmates due to stress were high.
There is a hole which they call a toilet [but] there is no space even to go to that hole if you want to use it. There is no space for you to walk, anyway. So, when you are locked in by 16:00 hours, where you are is where you are going to be until tomorrow morning. You’ll find that they will wake you up around 04:00 hours because there are people who die because of stress. You wake up and you just find that he is dead; he is among you [but] you won’t even notice that he is dead. But when they tell you [to] stand up at 04:00 hours, you’ll find that he is not standing and then you’ll notice that this one is dead. It’s pathetic,
Asked by the programme host how frequent deaths of inmates happened at the Lusaka Central Prison, Mwaliteta, who is now a UPND member, disclosed that such was “routine”.
“Apparently, that’s the routine; we noticed so many deaths there and that made us so worried – are we going to manage to go through what other people are going through? But you know, with hardcore criminals, for them it’s alright. But for people like us who went there for politically-motivated charges, it became a bit difficult. One, we could not accept that we were in prison, two, we did not believe that we were detained over a handbag and a K350! I could not believe that I could go in for K350! In fact, this issue of the elections material…the original charges they had charged us [with] was [theft of] a K350, handbag and a cell phone. Those were the main charges [but] they came to make an application at the High Court because they got embarrassed and that’s when they brought issues of ECZ (Electoral Commission of Zambia) materials. They had to amend the indictment whilst the case had started!” he recounted.
Mwaliteta further narrated that his incarceration made him to lose everything that he worked for as a member of parliament from 2011 to 2016.
It was a terrible experience! The experience was bad because I lost everything that I worked for when I was a member of parliament from 2011 to the time I resigned from the PF. I lost everything [and] my family was not the same anymore. My friends were even scared to go and see my family because they thought when they go to see them (family members), they might be picked [up]. So, it was a terrible situation. At one time, there was a time you heard that I’m sick…You just break down [because] you can’t stomach it. It was just too heavy! But eventually, I just picked up the pieces and said I think we need to move on,
“The most important thing which happened while we were in prison was the prayers from the Zambian people. We could get the feedback from the Zambian people [who were] praying for us. Everyone who came to visit us would tell us that ‘people are praying for you outside’. So, we picked up our strength and said then we are not alone. We realised that we had a sixth person detained with us who was God. We were five but we realised that if people are praying for us outside, there must be a sixth person who we can’t see; so, let’s rely on Him for our strength and that’s how we managed. It (prison) just became like it was home, but we suffered.”
He further wondered why arrests of political figures had become prevalent under President Edgar Lungu’s reign than ever before.
“What came in the mind of my children and myself (on acquittal day) is why did I have to go through this? What kind of hatred is this country now developing? We were all shocked to be acquitted [but] of course, we knew that we would be acquitted but we thought that we could be acquitted at [an] earlier stage than keeping us [longer]. But we came to know that it was politically-motivated; people wanted to break us down whilst in prison. This is the first time from the time of…A bit of [Frederick] Chiluba regime and Kaunda where politicians could be detained…A lot of political arrests have just started happening now. Even when I was arrested, I thought it was a joke. When I was at Woodlands Police, I thought at one point [that] I will come out because I knew [that] I was very innocent. I said, ah! Maybe they just want to punish me because I left PF at a crucial time,” Mwaliteta narrated.
“If I undress, you’ll be shocked to see how I look here (his back). We had sores because of sleeping on a mattress which [Frederick] Chiluba bought! There is no turning and so, I started developing sores. [There are] bed bugs, lice and stuff like that; cockroaches – you can’t believe it! [But] you have to endure, you have to stay there.”
And Mwaliteta revealed that President Lungu’s visit to Chimbokaila last year fell short of the anticipations of many inmates.
Surprisingly, the President came twice [to Chimbokaila] and we met with the President. We greeted each other and we had a lot of expectations from him because of course, he knew [that] I worked under him as a minister. I had never stolen anything (as a minister); not even imprest, not even a ngwee, not even [an] audit query in all these provinces I worked. I realised that when he came there, he wanted to see how I was doing and probably make a decision to take me out. I’m sorry to mention this to you; he (President Lungu) is not reliable! You can say this now [but] tomorrow he will do something else!
“The President was the one who was in the forefront saying ndefwaya ukumona ifyo balala abantu (I want to see how inmates sleep). He went cell by cell to see how we were seated. The only thing he told us was that ‘I have seen how you are sleeping; the next thing I’m doing [is that] I’m bringing you big pots so that they can be cooking you nshima. Moreover, you shouldn’t worry too much because I’m building more prisons in Mwembeshi. So, I’ll take you to Mwembeshi where you’ll be sleeping very comfortably; for now, you can endure but I’ll at least bring some pots for you to eat nshima’. Nobody complained about those pots! When he came, he didn’t come specifically for the pots but he did a tour; he went to the kitchen. The expectation of the inmates there, the 1, 000 plus inmates, was [that] when the President comes, he is going to release a lot of people to de-congest the prison. [But] then he talked about the pots and they were all disappointed!”
Meanwhile, asked to give an account of his coincidental meeting with Hichilema at Chimbokaila, Mwaliteta disclosed that inmates gave the opposition leader a very good reception.
The welcome was very good; the inmates just went like ‘you are the one we want’ and that brought problems to the officers (prison warders) and that’s why they (some) were transferred. They (prison authorities) thought that officers engineered that kind of welcome. There was a big celebration in prison. The inmates almost lifted him (Hichilema) up. They said because he has come to see how we are suffering and we know that even [Michael] Sata was here and when he (Hichilema) goes out, he will be President and he will come and remove us. When Sata left prison, he (as President) removed at least more than 3, 000 inmates. Only the current President has been removing 20, 30, 40 inmates and this has angered the inmates there. If he is listening now, on the 24th October he should at least increase the number to 4, 000 because it is going to help to de-congest the prisons,
“So, when he (Hichilema) came, they wanted him to feel what they are feeling, they wanted him to see the suffering of the people. He tried to attend to the inmates there, one by one. I think he has written a lot of things because president HH was very good at writing. Every time, he was just writing. He used to carry a book and a pen all the time; whoever talks to him, he will take notes. When I joined UPND, I was not very close to HH [but] I became too close to him in prison; that was my chance to talk to him in confidence. There are certain things I wanted him to clear and so, I had my moment. Us political prisoners had no freedom but hardcore criminals had some freedom. Political prisoners should not be mingled with hardcore criminals, please! We are not criminals.”
He also noted that he harboured no hate against those who possibly took pleasure at his stay in prison.
It’s only in the last two days that I believed that I was completely free and you can ask my children; I was not even sleeping at my home! I was hiding, [afraid of] my own shadow. I thought they could come and pick me up again. I couldn’t believe that I was out of that prison. If Mumbi Phiri knows what prison is, she cannot even wish the worst enemy to go to prison, especially a politician and not a criminal. That’s what we are going to do as UPND (in government); there must be a stop to these arrests of political opponents,
“In fact, even the police who arrested us, you can ask them, we used to greet and laugh at court. We’ve forgiven them; we are not going to do anything to them. I habour no hate [and] even the President himself, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, I have no hard feelings for him. But can he release HH!”
On the same programme, one of Mwaliteta’s co-accused Evan Mukobela said: “For me, I was so bitter when I was arrested but at the end I realised that if I continue with this bitterness, I will develop shock. I realised that I should forgive these guys who have taken us to prison. It was worth it because I believe in my president (Hichilema). Our struggle will continue because we know that when Hakainde becomes President, he is going to wipe out the poverty that you see around. We are fighting for a better Zambia and that’s what we want.”