Traffic came to a standstill, friends and family couldn’t stop cheering and dancing. Obvious Mwaliteta was returned to his hometown after spending 12 months in prison. The local people in Kafue remember him as their former hardworking member of parliament while others still refer to him as Honourable (former minister of Lusaka Province).
He was arrested on August 16, 2016, a day after President Edgar Lungu was declared winner of the hotly contested general elections, and charged with aggravated robbery – a non-bailable offence for which an offender could face as many as 30 years in prison. He was accused of robbing electoral officers and fleeing with election material.
Mwaliteta, an opposition UPND member, had been detained at Lusaka Central Prison and he attended each court hearing with diminishing hope of ever walking to freedom – until Tuesday August 9, 2017 when a Lusaka High Court judge ruled that he had no case to answer.
In this exclusive interview with News Diggers!, Mwaliteta relives his prison experience, thanks his family and party officials and warns those in government that their time is coming.
Question: How was your experience in prison?
Answer: The experience was terrible; it was very bad. But today I am very excited to be free. I am excited that we have been vindicated with my colleagues. We never committed that offense, truly we never did. But the judiciary has done it’s part and I think the judge was very good, I am sure he followed that case decided to to acquit us, so I am very excited. I know what prison is like today, but what is unfortunate is that there are a lot of people who are in prison who are innocent. We need to do a lot to help them. Maybe we need some judicial reforms. But unfortunately, we don’t see things like that happening maybe because those in government haven’t been to prison. But time will come when they will go to prison and they will realise that prison conditions need to change. The correctional facility they talk about is not yet there, it’s just by name. A lot has to be done but all the same, I am very happy that I am out, I am excited though my heart is back in prison because I have left my president there.
Q: How hard was it for you to survive in prison?
A: I know the experience in prison and I feel for those people I have left there. I know what it is, I know what they are going through even right now when I am giving you the interview. I know what is happening inside there, it was not easy. That place is not a good place for someone to be, but it was God. People thought it was Mwaliteta who was detained or put in prison, but there was another person whom they didn’t see and it was God. God was with me, he was ever looking and watching over me when I was sleeping.”
Q: How is your health now after leaving prison?
A: I am very healthy, I have no complaints and up to date I am very humbled that the Zambian people also did their part, they have been praying for us. They prayed and we could feel their prayers coming to prison. Even if we were inside, we could feel the prayers and I want to thank them. My lawyers also have done a very good job and I want to thank them, Keith Mweemba and the group, honourable Keith Mukata though he is detained and his group, they did a very good job. I also want to thank the party. The party supported us through the president and his vice-president. Even when the president was in prison, he still wanted to support us and we said ‘but Mr president we are in the same situation, why are you concerned about us? We are concerned about you’ he said ‘no I am concerned about you people’. So we received very big support from the party and also from my family. I can assure you that all my family members came to visit me. All my party members from Kafue constituency came to visit me, so I am very humbled. It’s only now that I am realising the gap I left, people felt it. That’s why they followed me to prison to come and see me and I am doing fine.
Q: Do you feel Hichilema will be free soon?
A: We are looking forward to this dialogue that is going on, but unfortunately, how do you dialogue when the other colleague is in prison? We were hoping that they would bring HH out then let him consult with his colleagues so that as they discuss this thing of dialogue, he will also have people to consult. But it’s like you put a boxer in the ring and then one of them has got groves but the other boxer is tied then you say can you fight, honestly you can’t win a fight like that. We want a win-win situation. We are very happy that the Catholics have taken this issue of dialogue with others and we are very ready to dialogue.
Q: Do you intend to sue the state for wrongful detention?
A: Well, not now. I need first of all to sit down and consult my lawyers. What is important for me now is my freedom, that I am out and if there is anything I think it won’t come now maybe later. What is important is that I have come to join my family so I need to reflect and I think. For me to be in prison also it was another experience I was getting, so I am a new person, I am a very different person after coming out of this prison. And when you come out of prison, it is a blessing somehow. You can see today how people are celebrating seeing me after a year. I know it’s very painful, I have lost a lot and I have been out for a long time, but I think we have learned a lot.
Q: What is the way forward for you? Will you continue with politics or you are quitting?
A: This is our country. Zambia is our country and the struggle continues. If things are wrong we need to correct them, so who is going to correct them if we are going to fold our arms? If we say ‘because I have been in prison so let me see things going wrong and fold my arms, who is going to correct them? We need to correct the situation in this country, we need to keep on pushing our colleagues to do the right thing in government for those who are still in government. I am not going to quit politics, actually this is just the beginning of my political career, I have just started.
Q: What message do you have for President Edgar Lungu and those in government?
A: What we need to do now is to continue with the liberation of this country economically and politically because everything is wrong. That’s a fact. My colleagues in government, my advice to them is that they should reflect. I was part of them and I know what I am talking about. There is something wrong in the governance system of this country. This country cannot be misled by a few individuals who are misleading the President. That presidency is big and the President cannot be getting advice from small small boys who are conmen. We want this country to be peaceful because we have been peaceful ever since we got our independence and there is no way all of a sudden there are all these problems like this in the country. So I am asking the President of this country Edgar Chagwa Lungu to reflect. What direction does he want the country to go? If he thinks what is happening now in the country is comfortable, then it is only him who is comfortable [because] the rest of the Zambians are not comfortable. So if the rest of Zambians are not comfortable and they are not happy with the way things are happening in the country, I think as a leader, he should reflect and try to find a way of doing the right thing. But we are not going to complain. I have no hard feelings for anyone, I habour no hurt for my colleagues in government, I wish them the best as they try to govern this country. I am only saying please, let them open their ears not only their eyes. They need to listen, people are crying and if people are crying then you pretend that they are not crying but laughing, you will be shocked one day. I wish them all the best.”