One kind of crime that I found interesting during my time working at the prison was murder, be it in self-defense or otherwise. I just could not wrap my mind around the fact that some had taken another person’s life.
What I noted was that those who killed someone in self-defense talked freely about their crimes and took responsibility. On the other hand, those who were alleged to have killed in cold blood either did not say anything about their crimes or did not take responsibility. Like I said in an earlier post, I did not ask inmates what they had been arrested for but sometimes I got to know what they had done through other inmates, officers, newspapers or the inmates themselves.
One woman I will call Mumba, killed her husband in self-defense. I got to be quite close to Mumba around 1992 because I speak her Zimbabwean mother tongue, Ndebele. According to her and several witnesses, Mumba’s husband beat her up frequently when he was drunk – which was regularly. One day, her husband beat her as usual and for once Mumba feared for her life. She said he beat her more than how he usually did. Mumba realized that either one of them was going to die that day and she decided that it was not going to be her. Mumba lived in a village just outside Lusaka and one of the weapons her husband had was a spear, so she grabbed it and stabbed him. Mumba said she could not stop striking her husband because all the pent up anger and hurt from years of abuse overcame her. She was stabbing him for the dozens/hundreds of times he had beat her instead of this one time that she felt she had to defend herself.
Mumba only stopped stabbing her husband when she was worn out and that is when she realized he was dead. It was too late to do anything. Mumba was arrested and moved to the Central Prison in Lusaka. It was very a sad story. Mumba was acquitted and went back to her village, but unfortunately, I never followed up and do not know how she reintegrated into the community.
Another case is about a girl I will call Charity who I met around 1992 also. Charity had been married for some years but could not conceive. She went to a witch doctor to find out what the cause of her childlessness was. Unfortunately, witch doctors do not usually just give their clients medication to solve problems but normally say who the person behind the problem is. In Charity’s case, the witch doctor said her grandmother had bewitched her so that she could not have children. Charity got furious andconfronted her grandmother who denied the accusations. Charity beat her until she passed away.
Charity was arrested and sentenced to death. She was on death row at Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe. She appealed and was sent for psychiatric evaluation in Lusaka and that is the time I met her. Unfortunately for her, she was sent back to death row. I do not know what happened to her but I doubt that she was executed because executions had been stopped in Zambia by this time even though people still get sentenced to death.
(just a side bar – there is a difference between a witch doctor and herbalist. The former divines the witch/wizard behind a problem while a herbalist prescribes medicines to a patient without accusing another person).