THE four police officers at the Inquires Office at Lusaka’s Kabwata Police Station looked quite bored that Sunday morning– obviously for not having something to keep them busy. As a result, now and then, one would yawn and stretch his arms.
Was this a sign that criminals had gone on recess the previous night?
Of course not; for shortly afterwards, things started happening to liven up the rather sombre atmosphere in the office.
People started trickling in with various reports of thefts and burglaries that had taken place either that day or the previous night.
As the officers dealt with these cases, two men walked in, one fairly tall, slim and bearded with a light complexion, and the other short, stocky, dark in complexion and clean-shaven.
“Yes boss,” one of the officers, obviously the most senior of the constables on duty that morning, asked the stocky man who distinguished himself as the leader of the two-man delegation. “What can we do for you, sir?”
“I want to see the three boys who were apprehended last night in connection with theft of a radio,” the short man said. “Will you call them for me please?”
“Are you the complainant in the case?” the officer felt he should ask; for he could not see how anyone could just walk into a police station and ask for the removal of suspects from the cells.
“Yes, I am the complainant, that’s why I want to see them.”
When the suspects were brought into the Inquiries Office, the short man said to them, “You guys, better tell the truth. You know where the radio is, so you must bring it back. Do you hear?” he shouted angrily.
The first suspect confessed that he was the one who had stolen the radio, saying, “I broke into the old man’s house while everybody was away, got the radio, a Philips two-band radio, and went to sell it to one of the farmers who came to sell vegetables at Chilenje Market.”
“Can you recognise this farmer if you saw him again?” the senior constable asked the self-confessed thief.
“I can’t,” came the quick reply. “You see, the farmer I sold the radio to is one of those who sell vegetables to marketeers at various Lusaka markets. There is no way I can trace him, and even if I saw him again, I wouldn’t be able to recognise him.”
“In other words,” the complainant asked angrily, “what you are saying, young man, is that my radio is lost for good?”
FIRST SUSPECT: “That’s what it means, I’m afraid.”
COMPLAINANT: “Young man, do you realize how much I want to hang you each time you say things like that?”
FIRST SUSPECT(RATHER CHEEKILY): “What did you expect me to say? To tell you lies?”
OFFICER (INTERJECTING) : “Hey, don’t be cheeky, you thief! How much did you sell the radio for?”
FIRST SUSPECT: “I sold it for K20,000 (old currency).”
OFFICER(SURPRISED): “What! K20,000? I’m not surprised that the farmer bought it so fast. Wherever he is, he must be grinning from ear to ear at having been so lucky in his life.”
But the complainant refused to accept the young suspect’s story. As far as he was concerned, the three boys knew where his radio was and they had to bring it back “unless you want to rot in the cells.”
The three suspects had been detained by the night shift; hence, in the light of the first suspect’s story, the officer wondered what the other two suspects had been locked up for.
OFFICER(TO THE FIRST SUSPECT): “When you stole the radio, how many were you?”
FIRST SUSPECT: “I was alone.”
OFFICER: “You were not with your two friends?”
FIRST SUSPECT: “They weren’t there. I did it alone.”
OFFICER: “So what are they doing here?”
FIRST SUSPECT: “I don’t know.”
OFFICER(TO THE SECOND SUSPECT): “Were you present when your friend stole the radio?”
SECOND SUSPECT: “I know nothing about this case.”
At this point, the complainant intervened, “Officer, these little crooks acted jointly. As far as I am concerned, all of them are guilty.”
OFFICER: “But according to the second suspect, he says he knows nothing about this case .”
COMPLAINANT: “The second suspect is also guilty. I am saying so because I am his father.”
OFFICER( SURPRISED): “Are you saying the second suspect is your son?”
COMPLAINANT: “He is my son. I am told he was away when the first suspect broke into my house and stole the radio, but still I hold that my son knows something about this case. The self-confessed thief is the son of my next-door neighbour.”
OFFICER: “How do you explain that? If your son was not at home when the first suspect broke into your house, how then does he come into this case?”
COMPLAINANT: “Last night, the three of them were found enjoying themselves at Kalipinde Night Club. People who saw them say they were flashing money like nobody’s business and that they were dead drunk. I didn’t give my son any money, so where did he get the money to go to Kalipinde?”
OFFICER:(TO SECOND SUSPECT): “What do you say to that, young man? Your father says you went to Kalipinde and you had a lot of money. Where did you get it?”
SECOND SUSPECT: “My uncle, my father’s younger brother, gave me a pair of trousers. The trousers was rather too small for me, so I sold it to a friend at K15,000. It is this money which I used to go to Kalipinde.”
COMPLAINANT (ANGRILY): “Stupid bugger! My younger brother gives you a pair of trousers and you go and sell it because it is too small for you! What kind of lunacy is that? If it was too small, why didn’t you report back to him or to me? I really regret being your father.”
The complainant asked the police to punish his son severely while in the cells. “You have my authority to clobber the bugger. Panel-beat him, let him do some press-ups and frog dance. I wouldn’t care less even if you killed him in the process,” he said. “I am not prepared to have a son who creates problems for other people. This boy is a problem. I want him to learn the hard way.”
After giving his statement, the complainant and his friend walked away. Meanwhile, upon making further inquiries, it transpired that the third suspect had nothing to do with the case since his only connection to the offence was that he was found in the company of the first and second suspects at the Kalipinde Night Club.
The third suspect was, therefore, released from custody after he had given a statement.
Then a short while later, a middle-aged woman walked into the police station in the company of a young girl, probably her daughter. She told the officers that she had come to see her son who had been apprehended the previous night.
“I don’t know what he did but I have just been told that he is here,” she said.
It later transpired that the woman was referring to the third suspect in the radio theft case who had been released from custody upon being declared innocent.
“Your son was found to have no case to answer, so we released him,” the senior officer told her. “He should be approaching home by now.”
One would have expected the woman to be happy at the news that her son had been cleared of the allegations against him and released. But to the officers’ surprise, she looked thoroughly disappointed.
OFFICER: “Madam, you don’t look happy. What’s the problem?”
WOMAN: “You even ask me that question? I am very annoyed with you. Why did you release that thief? Tell me! You should have kept him in the cells and beaten him up. I’m completely fed up with him.”
OFFICER: “But the boy had nothing to do with the case.”
WOMAN: “You even say that, but I know him better because he is my son. There is no way that boy could be innocent. He is guilty and I want you to go and put him back into the cells and torture him.”
OFFICER: “Since he is innocent, there is nothing we can do about it. The law doesn’t operate that way.”
WOMAN: “But I have authorized you to re-arrest him, haven’t I? I was very happy when I heard that he had been locked up because I thought he would now learn a lesson.”
She explained that her son was a real menace to her household. “The right place for him is in prison, not in my house. We can’t live in peace because of him. You guys are trained how to torture people, so apply those techniques on my son when he is re-arrested. Spunk him and flog him with a big sjambok. He must learn a lesson.”
OFFICER (SMILING): “What is happening to parents today? Only a short while ago, a father asked us to beat up his son, even if it meant killing him in the process. You are also telling us the same. Who told you that police detain and beat innocent people? Policemen are there to arrest criminals and take them to court….”
The author is a Lusaka-based media consultant who also worked in the Foreign Service as a diplomat in South Africa and Botswana. For comments, sms 0977425827 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org