In 1966, Lusaka Remand Prison consisted of a rectangular wall about 4 metres high with iron rods sticking out backwards just under the top, draped with barbed wire, surrounding five blocks and the reception offices at the entrance. The prison stood a few hundred metres back from the main road into Lusaka from the south, in an open expanse of flat ground.
The Landy was driven through the main gateway into a small yard. I was booked in at the reception and was searched. Dressed in a suit, all I had besides was my passport and about five pounds which the guards relieved me of, along with my tie, in case I decided to hang myself.
Although I was a remand prisoner, I was put in the Prohibited Immigrant Block which stood in a walled quadrangle to the left of the gates. The reason for that was that the only other pale-face in the establishment was an Englishman who had been deported for breaking his contract on the copper mine where he had worked, but on arrival in Britain, it was found that his passport had expired. He was sent back to Lusaka to await its renewal. It eventually dawned on me that I was being given special treatment by being put with him for ethnic compatibility reasons! The head of the prison was actually a South African named Sonnekus, which must had something to do with this.
Sonnekus later explained to me that as I was still a juvenile, my punishment, if found guilty, may well be corporal punishment, and that he was the only man in the Zambian prison system that was licenced to administer this. He was a huge man, some three hundred pounds and little of it fat. Confidentially, he explained that he could pull no punches, as it were and as he would be watched. He would risk losing his job if he was seen giving favour to a fellow South African. He terrified me by giving me lessons on how to take it like a man, or he would have to give me more strokes! I was a smoker, then, and almost penniless, so the best present I had ever had was the pack of thirty cigs that Sonnekus gave me.
Soon after I arrived, I found myself back in the offices, being interrogated by the Special Branch, who tried to question me about the previous night’s activities. A bomb had gone off at the Lusaka Airport during the night. Obviously my ignorance about the layout of Lusaka, never mind the whereabouts of the airport, soon convinced the officers that I was innocent. Zambia had been granted its independence two years previously, so I suppose there were still rumblings of discontent about Kenneth Kaunda’s power claim. I later got to meet two or three of the opposition that became my cell-mates.
There were about ten of us in the P.I. block, all either about to be deported or asking for asylum. Most of them were very interesting to talk to; especially two Somalians who described their women to me as being the prettiest in the world! The worst was a South African Indian named Mohammed Ali Shah who had been wanted by authorities there for being a political agitator. I had no problem with his politics, but he took it upon himself to attack me verbally for being a racist white Boer. Nobody else liked him, either.
There were no beds. We slept on reed mats and were issued two grey blankets each. Nights in Lusaka in September are still pretty chilly, so one had to decide whether to use one blanket as a mattress or both as cover. Being a spoiled honkey, I was not yet used to a sleeping mat, but I soon developed callouses on my skinny hip-bones!
On the Monday following, I was taken with others, all squeezed into a van, to court. I pleaded guilty, but the white magistrate listened to my story and told me that I was not guilty if I was drunk and did not take the clock for personal gain. I changed my plea and, in my naivety, was shocked to be remanded to the following Monday.
Every morning we had roll-call in the yard. The guards had difficulty pronouncing my surname, so simply called me Pitta-jawn, their version of Peter John. Once a week we were issued a piece of green carbolic soap. Having no towel, I drip-dried in the sunshine along with my one pair of underpants, socks and shirt, before getting into my suit again. The Englishman’s brother was the British High Commissioner in Helsinki. He told me that he hoped to get him to hurry his passport application along.
On the morning of 6th September, 1966, South Africa’s Prime Minister, Dr H.F.Verwoerd was assassinated. The news got to us at about noon and was played to us on the address system to the effect that ‘the epitome of tyranny is dead!” I was punched and pushed about a bit by the guards, but it soon cooled off when I didn’t react. Mohammed Ali Shah had a lot to crow about, though, which actually worked in my favour due to his unpopularity. Whether there was any connection or not, I don’t know, but Sonnekus was replaced with an Englishman who went out of his way to tell me that if I thought I’d get any favours from him, I was mistaken. Twit.
Next week the jailbird tweets on…