By Mwaka Ndawa
FDD leader Edith Nawakwi has conceded to having committed African Life Financial Services Limited to paying 23 of its employees their terminal benefits following their transfer from Anglo American Corporation.
Nawakwi claimed that she made the utterances in public interest on behalf of the employees who died without getting their benefits, including those who approached her to seek alms.
She clarified that she was not appointed as a spokesperson by employees of African Life Financial Services Limited, neither was she appointed as an administratrix of the deceased employees.
African Life Financial Services Limited wants the Lusaka High Court to commit Nawakwi to prison for misrepresenting facts when she alleged that it was liable to pay its former employees US$300,000 (about K5.3 million) when the same claim was a subject in an active court case.
African Life said Nawakwi’s utterances during a press briefing were calculated at prejudicing the general public against it.
This is in a matter where Dickson Mtonga and 22 other security guards sued African Life Financial Service Limited in 2014, demanding US$300,000 and terminal benefits owed to them following their transfer from Anglo American.
During a press briefing last year, Nawakwi alleged that former workers of Anglo American were not paid their dues before their transition to African Life in 2000, whilst the case was pending determination.
When the matter came up for hearing of the contempt application before judge Susan Wanjelani, African Life Financial Services Limited executive director Munakupya Hantuba asked the court to penalise Nawakwi for commenting on active court proceedings.
He said in February 2021, the matter became a subject of public discussion by the alleged contemnor who publicly debated the merits and demerits of the case.
Hantuba said he issued instructions to his lawyers Malambo and Company to institute contempt proceedings against Nawakwi.
“While the process of exchanging court documents was ongoing, yet again the alleged contemnor publicly debated the matter before court and in both occasions, the affidavits that we presented before court are also backed by recorded videos of the live interactions the alleged contemnor engaged with the public,” said Hantuba. “I took it that her utterances were pre-judicial and requested the lawyers to protect the integrity of the court process. This court needs protection from the utterances made by the alleged contemnor. I am seeking that appropriate punishment be meted on the alleged contemnor.”
During cross examination by Nawakwi’s lawyers, Hantuba confirmed that he was also an employee of Anglo American and was transferred to African Life together with the 23 security guards but none of them was entitled to any benefits.
He agreed to having knowledge about the transfer sum of $300,000.
“I am a shareholder in the company that has interest in the defendant’s company. Menel Limited has 51 percent shares in African Life. Valentine Chitalu and I are the only shareholders,” Hantuba said.
In her defence, Nawakai who is former minister of finance said she was involved in the negotiations of the privatisation process prior to the transfer of many mining assets including the transfer of pension funds to Saturnia Regina Pensions Fund by mining firms.
“I wish to comment that in my occupation as a politician I have interacted with former employees of Barclays Bank, KCM, formerly BP Zambia, Anglo-American which was transferred to African Life. I was making these remarks as a politician in the interest of the public and those who have passed on and many people who come to ask from us politicians for medical fees,” Nawakwi said.
“I sated that of the 53 employees transferred on top of the list is Bryson Habazunka, who is now shareholder and CEO of BC Benefits Consulting Services Limited, a company which is a custodian of assets for Saturnia. Number two on the list is Hantuba who is the shareholder of Menel Company (Menel Management Services).”
During cross examination by Hantuba’s lawyer Kamuwanga Phiri, Nawakwi denied being appointed as the spokesperson of the security guards.
Asked if she was aware that politicians were bound by the law, Nawakwi responded in the affirmative.
She denied being appointed as the administratrix of the estate of the deceased employees in order to speak on their behalf.
Nawakwi confirmed that BC Benefits Consulting Services Limited was a separate entity from African Life and that Hantuba owned shares in African Life through Menel.
She further claimed that she was not aware that the matter was a subject for litigation when she made the utterances.
“I was not aware of the main matter my lady. I was not commenting on the matter but on the fact that Bryson and Hantuba were together with the employees, the question is whether they were paid or not,” said Nawakwi.
Judge Wanjelani has reserved judgement for May 16, 2022.