Monday, August 21, 2017

Prisons, warts and migodi

“We are all prisoners but some of us are in cells with windows and some without.” - Kahlil Gibran

In the last couple of dark moons, a singsong that has caught my attention the most is the one on prisons and warts. For now, put aside the play scripts on the allegations of cowards; “haulas”; namby-pambies in sisal wigs; and, of treason for allegedly eating, then stealing Pride, the King’s prized cockerel. Take a Yoga position, and mull over Hakainde Hichelema, Mwaliteta, prison and warts. Think of their memory of our prisons.

“Dehumanising, urine, faecal matter, disease infested, migodi (pit latrines)..,” are surely their memories. Rather nightmarish.

Lest we forget, the Zambia Human Rights Commission has for years, consistently provided us with Reports on prison conditions in the country. The singsong is the same, only the time changes.

Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions! This is, in part due to unreasonable durations of pre-trial detentions. Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, the Reports say, have resulted in the prevalence of diseases like scabies and warts.

For instance, the 2007 Annual State of Human Rights in Zambia tells us that, “there are 1, 826 terminally ill prisoners countrywide”. In the same year, we are also told of a prisoner who had been locked up for 5 years without trial as he never appeared in Court since his arrest in March 2002; and of, another individual who the Court sentenced to 5 years imprisonment after waiting for 5 years for his judgment (Well, he was released as he had already spent 5 years in Scheol).

In 2008, the singsongs include a suspect accused of robbery, who had been in prison since 2005, last appeared in Court in 2006 and allegedly had been locked up without trial because his case record could not be found; and, an HIV positive individual remanded in prison and denied access to ARVs for two months.

Come 2015, the singsong is now mangy dog-eared. People die! ‘The most common illnesses that result in natural deaths in these facilities are tuberculosis, pneumonia, hepatitis B, malaria...’[1] Of course, people die!

Really wonder why the Human Rights Commission ever bothers.

Well, let us get back to Hichelema and Mwaliteta. It now should not surprise you that their walk to freedom is not as memorable an experience, as the warts. I do not seek to minimise the unacceptable cruelty suffered. I really thought an enforced wart on a fellow like Hichelema, Mwaliteta or the late Michael Sata (he once spent 27 days in prison, long enough for warts to set in) would make us howl together with the Human Rights Commission.

Fact is, Hichelema’s, Mwaliteta’s concern on warts in our prisons cannot evoke howlings on what we are as a people, just like the Human Rights Reports do not.  We just do not care!

If we did. We would not have the majority of our people still doing their early morning rituals in migodi; they will not still be drinking water from holes connected to migodi. This happens, while in an unthinking stupor we celebrate a sickening self-impoverishing public expenditure culture of luxury SUVs. How then can it be that warts will really concern us!

Could be, that is why we even build roads that tomorrow, are migodi.

I have been on prison condition visits, before. Our prisons are places that make you more somber than the places of many crosses where we like wetting our eyes. The prisons call out to your inner soul, even if you do not have a conscience. They call forth in you, questions of how we can treat fellow humans worse than hogs on an average European farm.

Enforced warts can be very painful, especially if they develop in the nether ends. Unless of course, if one is juiced on my beloved grandmother’s paraffin and battery acid laced seven-days brew. Pity, my grandmother has not yet secured a prisons export permit for her brew. So, it is unlikely that anyone who has experienced our prisons cannot lament about enforced warts.

Let us start saying, no to warts and migodi. Warts and migodi are an inerasable epitaph of what we are, what we need to change in ourselves, irrespective of how often we break the stone.

In any case, it is written in the stars, that our existence should light the path of darkness, not only for ourselves but more so for those that come before us, for those that do not have the strength to walk with us, and for those that fall before us.

We are the light, and our ways, not our words, should be the living monuments of that light. We should never dance to warts and migodi. This is the promise, and we should always keep it.

Pax vobiscum - Peace be with you.

[1] 2015 Annual State of Human Rights Report