The acquittal of Minister of Infrastructure, Hon. Ronald Chitotela by Magistrate David Simusamba, and the sentencing of Mwenya Kankunkutula to 4 years in prison for stealing soap worth K18 (about $1.20) illustrates the rottenness of Zambia’s judicial system.
Mr. Chitotela was celebrating his “vindication”, while Mr. Kankunkutula was pleading for mercy; telling the Magistrate that the soap was for washing his children’s school uniforms. Unlike in Chitotela’s case, the court sentenced the poor man to 4 years in prison as his wife “wept uncontrollably.” Imagine the effect this ruling will have on his family. Well it matters not in the Christian nation.
Mr. Kankunkutula is not the only poor person rotting in jail for this petty crime. He joined countless other–a teenage boy sentenced to 3 years in prison for stealing a pant worth K20, and Spencer Mwambula sentenced to 6 months imprisonment for stealing one tablet of Lifebouy. And the list is endless. Yet to claim that the government did not find any evidence that Chitotela stole even a dollar is pure madness! It is for this reason that such unjust court actions must receive wider condemnation–unfortunately not!
I am not condoning shoplifting, but social circumstances matter as well. What kind of poverty can lead a person to steal a tablet of soap? As long as both unemployment rates and the gap between the rich and the poor continue to explode, and political corruption undermines national development, we should expect masses going to jail because of petty crimes like shoplifting.
It is an established custom that the ruling party’s corrupt politicians are innocent until they are out of favor with his Excellency, the Supreme Leader and newly minted President, Dr. Edgar C. Lungu. It was moreover shameful for Mr. Chitotela to celebrate the expected; he simply joined countless corrupt politicians acquited by the same courts. Unless we are blind or suffer from PFamnesia, we know how many millions are uncounted for; we know many cases in which the politicized Anti-Corruption Commission has brought charges against politicians, but such cases always enter the blackhole of justice!
Clearly, Mr. Chitotela cannot be investigated when Dr. Lungu is the law, the judge and the prosecutor–it is like asking the thief to investigate and convict himself. From the onset, President Lungu sided and defended Chitotela. If Chitotela insults the Supreme Leader today, I can assure you that the same ACC will rearrest him and find evidence to convict him. And if by divine intervention PF loses power in 2021, Chitotela will surely be rearrested by the new administration. But like Dora Siliya, his charges will be dropped if he shamelessly kisses the boots of the next president–it is called justice in the Christian nation.
We know the movie–Silvia Masebo, President Chiluba, Sata, Kambwili, GBM, Musenge–you can add to this endless list. It is not long ago when GBM and HH were accused of various crimes–but wait. The moment GBM put his lips on Lungu’s boots–the charges were dropped. As for Kambwili, he abused his power at will. When he lost support from the Supreme Leader, however, he became a criminal. Should he, however, loudly shout Lungu, and pabwato, all his charges will be dropped.
Am l the only person to question the moral basis of such unjust rulings? The poor generally steal out of necessity, but politicians do so out of grand selfishness. Yet it seems courts ignore the ethical relationship between breaking the law and justice; punishment must be proportional to the crime. Is it just for a person to spend 4 years in prison for a $1 crime? Unless it is a diamond dollar coin, such a sentence is unjust. Is a fine or community service not enough? Or is imprisonment the only justifiable sentence for shoplifting? And why are Churches silent amidst such unjust sentences?
We need no reminding that such injustices led to the rise of minor and major prophets in ancient Israel. Courts existed to render justice, but like in Zambia, they punished the poor and rewarded corrupt individuals (Amos 2:6-8).
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
I support the yellow campaign instituted against the changing of the Constitution, but we must not end with presidential powers, the independence of the judiciary, the ACC, the police, and civil society organizations. Amendments are needed on petty crimes like shoplifting too. As it stands, the judicial system only exists to punish the poor while rewarding those connected to the Supreme Leader! We must change!
By Rev. Kapya Kaoma