“Your prisoner could be your President”

By Moses Magadza

KABWE, ZAMBIA – The year is 2003.  Mr Lloyd Chilundika, now the Deputy Commissioner General in charge of Operations within the Zambia Correctional Service, is a young Senior Superintendent of Prisons and Officer in Charge for Kamwala Remand Prison in Lusaka. He is having a busy day in the office.

An angry tough-talking man has just been arrested and is led into his office. The unwilling and belligerent guest of the state is holding a cigarette. Despite being in the Officer in Charge’s office, the ‘suspect’ proceeds to take several puffs, filling the office with smoke. Chilundika is not amused but maintains his cool.

“Sir,” he says politely to his guest, “you can’t smoke in here, not even in your cell.”

The accused man turns out to be the now late Michael Chilufya Sata, then a Zambian opposition politician. On that September day, it did not seem probable that the sharp-tongued Sata would became the fifth President of Zambia. Yet that is what happened from 23 September 2011 until  his death on 28 October 2014.

Regardless, Chilundika treated him humanely and even allowed Sata’s wife to bring him nicotine sticks so that he would not smoke in his cell, which was not allowed. Six years later, Sata became President.

On Thursday, 18 July 2019 the world marked the Nelson Mandela Day and reflected on how correctional services are implementing the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the

Inmates at Mukobeko follow a sensitisation activity on the Mandela Rules. Photo: Nonde/UNIC Lusaka/2019

Treatment of Prisoners, now known as the Nelson Mandela Rules. Among other things, the Nelson Mandela Rules encourage Member States to offer prisoners health care services comparable to what obtains in mainstream society free of charge and without discrimination.

On the sidelines of colourful commemorations at Mukobeko Maximum Correctional Facility in Zambia’s Central Province at which inmates received food and non-food items courtesy of UNODC, UN Information Centre, UN Zambia staff and the private sector (Unilever, Unified Chemicals and Freshpikt), Chilundika reminisced about his 2003 encounter with the late President Sata.

In a brief interview he said he treated Sata with respect even though he did not have the foggiest idea that the now late politician – fondly remembered widely as King Cobra on account of his sharp tongue – would become Head of State and Government because he acknowledged “his innate dignity as a human being.”

While calling for practical steps from punitive to rehabilitative custody, Chilundika said Nelson Mandela Day provides an opportunity for correctional services all over the world to reflect and hold candid discussions on what can be done differently to improve care of people in incarceration.

“How do you treat an offender today who can be your President tomorrow? If we can see an offender in the same circumstances in which President Nelson Mandela was as he fought tuberculosis and reflect on the way he was treated, that would be a good standard. Let us recognise the inherent dignity of all people,” he said.

Mr Mwape Kasanda, Assistant Secretary in the Office of the President in Zambia, holds the same view. Speaking when the UNODC Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa Ms Signe Rotberga and other UNODC staff paid him a courtesy call in his office in Kabwe on Nelson Mandela Day, he said access to equitable health care was a human rights issue.

“Health and welfare of people in incarceration are very important. If one is incarcerated, one does not cease to be a human being. Basic rights must be upheld so that rehabilitation efforts are fully supported. Penitentiaries are meant to rehabilitate people. Mandela’s voice and fight for those in prison and the underprivileged must not be forgotten,” Kasanda said.

Dr Charles Msiska, the Provincial Health Director in charge of Central Province led 30 health practitioners including medical doctors from the Ministry of Health to Mukobeko Maximum Correctional Facility and began screening inmates for various health conditions free of charge.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Clinic in Lusaka initiated the screening, which the Ministry of Health enthusiastically embraced. The screening targeted at least 3000 male and female inmates and staff for non-communicable diseases that include hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions; eye diseases; and other diseases that include epilepsy, herpes zoster, asthma and dental carries.

UN staff and partners pose for a photo with correctional service authorities after the presentation. Photo: Nonde/UNIC Lusaka/2019

Msiska told inmates and scores of people that the Minster of Health had personally called him and instructed him to see to it that all inmates at the correctional facility were screened. He explained that in so doing, the Minister had taken leadership in the quest for universal access to equitable heath care and was toeing the line drawn by Zambia’s President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, who has declared that no one would be left behind as the world strives to end AIDS by 2030.

“We have decided that we will also screen all correctional officers. While here, we will not stop until we have seen the last client. No one should be left behind,” he said to applause.

By midday on Thursday, 1000 inmates had been screened. Depending on their conditions, some inmates were treated on site while others were referred to health facilities for further treatment. Rotberga hailed Zambia for lending much-needed political will to efforts to reform, rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders.

“As we reflect on the Nelson Mandela Rules and rules that are specific to health, seeing the work that is being done in Zambia is heart-warming. There is good collaboration between the Zambia Correctional Service and the Ministry of health in line with the Nelson Mandela Rules that say health care services should be organized in close relationship to the public health administration to ensure continuity of treatment and care.”

Chilundika thanked UNODC and other partners for supporting correctional services reforms in Zambia.

“Let us help future generations of correctional officers to adopt practices that would enable them to stand as being part of truly correctional and not largely punitive or retributive facilities,” he said.

Among the highlights of commemorations was a play written and performed by inmates on the rights of inmates. The play shows correctional officers from the old school brutalizing inmates while progressive ones caution them and teach them about the rights of inmates as outlined in the Nelson Mandela Rules.

In providing screening services for inmates, the Zambia Correctional Services and the Ministry of Health have joined Malawi Prison Service, which recently collaborated with the Ministry of Health to screen all female inmates for cervical cancer, in taking health care services to people in prison.

  • Moses Magadza is the Communication Officer at UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa.