Former Lusaka Province Minister Obvious Mwaliteta says the Zambian justice system is pathetic because people are detained for too long without their cases being heard.
And Mwaliteta says he has lost everything he worked for whilst in government.
Speaking on Muvi TV’s ‘The Assignment’ programme yesterday, Mwaliteta, who was last week acquitted by the High Court of aggravated robbery, revealed that some inmates had stayed in detention for eight years without being tried.
“I think the justice system in Zambia is very pathetic. There are colleagues that I have left in prison, they have been there for eight years waiting for trial. Some of them are still on trial, eight years! There is another colleague who stayed for ten years waiting for judgment but when the judgment came, he was only sentenced to one year. And who was going to pay him for the nine years he stayed in prison? It is pathetic. We need a lot of reforms. If you can go to Chimbokaila and find out from the inmates how long they have been to court, and this really got me scared, I asked one of the inmates when he last went to court, he said 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 inside,” Mwaliteta said.
“There 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.”
Mwaliteta said President Lungu’s visit to Chimbokaila last year fell short of the anticipations of many inmates.
“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…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,” Mwaliteta said.
“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, [that] was 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!”
He also disclosed that it was normal for inmates to die as a result of stress.
“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,” Mwaliteta said.
Asked how frequent deaths of inmates were, Mwaliteta, said they were “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 said.
And Mwaliteta lamented that he lost everything he worked for whilst in detention.
“I lost everything that I worked for, my family was not the same anymore. My friends were even scared to come and see me because they thought when they come and visit, maybe they might be picked (up). It was a terrible situation but my family just gathered the strength and picked up the pieces and encouraged me to move on. We realized that we had the sixth person arrested with us, because we were the five of us in that case but then we realized God was with us,” Mwaliteta said.
“That acquittal, because I already served a sentence. I served a year for a handbag, theft for a handbag. I served 365 days or twelve months just to be acquitted. Then what came to my mind was why did I have to go through this? What kind of hatred is in this country? Of course we knew that we could be acquitted but we thought that we could be acquitted at an earlier stage. But we came to know that it was politically motivated, people wanted to break us down. And this is the first time from the time of Kaunda when a lot of politicians are being arrested.”
Mwaliteta said that even if he was acquitted, his heart remained in prison because his president was still incarcerated.
“Even if I was acquitted, my heart remained in prison because my president is still in prison. And I knew he was being detained as innocent as I am. When HH was brought into Chimbokaila, the welcome was so good that the inmates were very happy and shouting ‘you are the one we want’ and that brought a problem with the officers, they thought maybe the officers engineered that kind of welcome. There was a big celebration in prison, the inmates almost lifted him up. Even me when I joined UPND, I was not very close to HH, I only became too close in prison. It gave me chance to talk to him in confidence,” Mwaliteta said.
Mwaliteta also urged President Edgar Lungu to release a lot of people on October 24th, 2017 under the Presidential parole.
“If he is listening now, on 24th October, he should at least increase the number of those he will pardon to 4,000 because it is going to help him decongest the prison. And the mistake the police made was to bring HH in Chimbokaila because that turned the whole entire prison against them,” said Mwaliteta.