A Night in a Zambian Jail
By Wesley Ngwenya
As the 40th birthday party of my former boss wound up, three of us decided to share a cab on our way to our homes. It was just about midnight the cab sped through the lighted streets of Addis Ababa Road and turned towards Longacres. Two of the colleagues were having a heated argument and the lady got so upset and asked the cab driver to stop. The driver stopped soon after we passed Intercontinental Hotel and the lady got out of the car.
The streets were quiet at this time of the night and therefore no cars around. Meanwhile the other guy decided to take off with the cab driver as I followed the lady towards Intercontinental Hotel. I stood with her not too far from the hotel grounds waiting for a cab. Instead of a cab a van of armed police officers approached us and ordered us to get in the vehicle. We got in the vehicle and took off to Kabwata Police Station but not before rounding up the girls who were working the streets around Chrismar Hotel.
At the police station we were ordered to take off our shoes, etcetera. I demanded to know why I was being detained but the officers were arrogant and eager to show their power. While I was on the cool side my colleague was not. She was literally resisting arrest and told the police officers “who she was”. I could hear the conversation cool down as I was led into the police cells at Kabwata.
The cell was crowded with bodies occupying every available space. The toilet was stinking terribly. There were cockroaches, flies and all sorts of bugs who were sharing the space with us. In the cells I met one government employee who has been detained for two days because he accidentally hit the minister’s vehicle in the parking lot at Ministry of Lands. He is being accused of trying to kill the minister even though the vehicle was empty. There were all kinds of people none of them looked like criminals.
While everyone fell asleep and some even snoring lots of thoughts crept through my mind. I thought about how it was dehumanizing. How I was harassed. How unhelpful, ignorant and arrogant the officers had been. What were my rights and if I could sue the police? I had never ever committed a crime in my life. What bothered me most is how it was difficult to reason and talk with the police. Why did I have to spend the night in the police cells if my offence was a payable fine of $4? They said they did not have the receipt book and so I will have to pay in the morning. I was later told by my cellmates that I should have just offered to bribe them and they would have let me go. How stupid was I not to even have thought about this. I would have gladly paid my bribe price had I known.
As I was being led out of the cells around 5am I kept thinking about how sickening our justice system was in this country. Is there even justice? The education level of our police offices leaves much to be desired. I felt like a real criminal those few hours I spent inside there. Instead of paying the $4 they took the all the little money on me. They were kind enough though to give me some change for a cab from my money. There was no receipt. And the lady colleague who supposedly was changed the same offence as me never spent a second in the cells because her mother is a “somebody”. Now that is justice in Zambia.