How Zambia became African champions

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African Champions

By Cameron Duodu

Sleazy goings-on in nughtclubs around Lusaka, the presence of legendary old man KK at the stadium in Libreville, memories of the 1993 tragedy in which nearly the entire national side was killed in Gabon… all worked together to propel Zambia to victory.

I was absolutely convinced that Zambia would win the African Cup of Nations football competition, which took place in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea from 21 January to 12 February 2012.

Before I am taken for one of the numerous football ‘Delphis’ who operate on our continent, I hasten to clarify that I didn’t come by this conviction through divine inspiration. I didn’t even deduce it from an expert analysis of Zambia’s playing strategy. I merely read everything there was to read about the Zambian team, and arrived at my own conclusion – clear as daylight.

You see, when they beat Ghana 2-0, I said to myself, ‘Ei, Lusaka is going to put on a show tonight’. I’ve been there before, and I know what they can be up to. And sure enough, up on my screen popped a news report that a reporter who had made a tour of Lusaka ‘nightclubs’, such as Kanyama’s Kanchembele and Chine Chikayeba, had observed long queues of men ‘waiting to have sex’ with a limited number of sex workers. Apparently, word had gone round that in celebration of the victory against Ghana, some of the ladies were making their services available free of charge.

The reporter gave some interesting details: a single sex worker serviced ‘nearly 11 men’. Why ‘nearly’? Was one of them short in the masculinity department?

Anyway, ‘there were more than 200 men’ waiting to celebrate ‘in style’ Zambia’s first qualification to the Africa Cup final since 1994.

Another engaging detail: ‘At Corogo,’ (the reporter went on) ‘a man in his mid-twenties was beaten up’ after he ‘took too long’ to do his business.

“‘Yes, we beat him up because he took too long…. We were too many … and the guy kept on wasting time’, said an eyewitness, identified only as James.”

The problem of numbers also arose ‘in Chawama, as well as Kalingalinga: only a handful of ladies were made to serve tens of Chipolopolo fans’. Were the madams deliberately restricting service in order not to go bankrupt?

When I read these reports, I said to myself that if this was the situation when only a semi-final match had been won, then Lusaka would catch fire if and when Zambia won the cup itself.

I also surmised that if the Zambian football authorities knew about human psychology at all, they would communicate a certain message to their players, which would win the cup for Zambia ‘by act, not of God, but of woman’.

It was a good thing I did not under-estimate the psychological skills of the Zambian football authorities. For among the VIPs they took to watch the match and act as cheerleaders was 88-year-old Dr Kenneth Kaunda, the leader who won independence for the country in 1964.

Now, the name of ‘KK’ (as he is affectionately known) features in almost every history examination in Zambia. But the examination questions never make reference to two of his qualities, which are only known to some of us who have been watching him for a very long time. First of all, he has a very good voice. He can sing emotionally-laden songs — in a very good baritone — at the drop of a hat.

Indeed, KK became leader of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) of the then Northern Rhodesia partly because he always carried a guitar to party meetings and animated the discussions with a catchy song, whenever sleep threatened to overtake the rhetorical zeal of those fighting to liberate Zambia from Sir Roy Welensky’s ‘Federation’ [of Rhodesia and Nyasaland].

Second, Kaunda can weep on tap. He used to carry a white handkerchief around to wipe away the tears, which flowed profusely whenever he described the heinous activities of the racist, Ian Smith [of Rhodesia’s ‘unilateral declaration of independence’ fame] and his accomplices in the apartheid regime of South Africa. In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Kaunda regularly addressed the United Nations General Assembly on racism and never failed to brandish his white handkerchief to wipe … you know what.

Not that there isn’t, of course, a lot about Zambian football that can make even a crocodile weep buckets of tears. In 1993, Zambia was taking part in the African Cup competition when a plane carrying its players crashed at Libreville, Gabon — the same place where the final against the Ivory Coast was due to take place. Almost the entire national team was killed. Only one member, Kalusha Bwalya, was spared, and that was only because he travelled to Gabon separately.

Kalusha is now president of the Zambian Football Association. Well, okay, give anyone with imagination a juxtaposition of a lone survivor and a known weeper and he can wreak havoc with it in men’s psyches. And then just add to the mixture the fact that Zambia’s first national team was named as ‘KK Eleven’ after Kaunda. Which Zambian player, watching the tears of the legendary old man they have all read about in books, would fail to become an instant ‘MaraPele’ on the playing field?

But the Zambians, a canny lot, did not want to put all their tears in one bucket, so to speak. What they did, on the day before the final took place, was to take the entire Zambian contingent to the actual beach near Libreville, where the plane crashed in 1993. They threw flowers into the water, in remembrance of their heroic footballers who had perished on national duty. Even merely seeing them pay their respects on TV was a most moving sight. To the players whose feet touched the wet sands, watching the waves eddying around the flowers, thoughts of the transition of man from body into soul could not have been too far away; thoughts that were potent enough to make any man wish to slay even elephants [the Ivory Coast team is called ‘The Elephants’] with his bare hands.

But to cap it all, a rumour was floated among the Zambian players that Zambian intelligence had secretly cabled the team officials that street talk in Lusaka had it that all the sex workers in the city had agreed to make their services entirely free to Zambian men who turned up that Sunday, if the Zambian players won the cup! This had, of course, caused a great stir amongst certain categories of Zambian men, and intelligence sources had picked up further ‘chatter’ to the effect that, if the team did not bring the cup to Lusaka, testosterone-crazy men would march to meet them at Lusaka airport and string them up on the nearest lamp-posts.

‘Some of the men, especially those who have a high sexual drive but no money, have been hanging around the airport already,’ the players were informed. ‘They will go back to Lusaka to claim their prize if Zambia wins. But if we lose, they will be on hand to greet us…. And they will be reinforced by new mobs of other sex-starved men, who will be carrying ropes with nooses knotted on them, ready to do their job.’

The Zambian intelligence agency reportedly updated its story, as the final was being played, with a message that: ‘When Didier Drogba [of the Ivory Coast] missed the penalty [during the first part of the match, before the eventual penalty shoot-out] some sex workers in Lusaka took off their tops and jumped up and down, yelling: ‘Didier Drogba is dead!’

That was all that was necessary. It showed that the rumours linking sex with the match could be taken as confirmed.

Well, the Zambian players knew their own people very well. And they didn’t want to take any chances. They would find it difficult to survive in the city if so much popular anger was aroused against him.

So, then, picture the scene in Lusaka’s Red Light districts as the game entered extra-time, followed by a penalty shoot-out.

Many testosterone-filled men have already taken their places in the long queues. TV sets and radios are relaying the match live.

An Ivorian player takes the first penalty. He scores. Every Zambian goes deadly quiet.

But the Zambians successfully reply. This is greeted with wild cheers. And so it goes on.

It is now five goals each. And then an Ivorian misses the next shot. A yell goes up.

But then, a Zambian too misses. ‘Ohhhhhhhhh!’ At least 10 million throats howl in pain.

Everyone becomes tense again. We are now in ‘sudden death’ territory.


And then – Zambia scores!

If I were to reproduce the sound that emanated across Lusaka, reverberated through the Copperbelt, crossed Lake Malawi, then created ripples in River Zambezi and then flowed all the way to Harare and Soweto, we would be here till next year.

As for what happened in bedrooms across Zambia that night, I leave that to your imagination to wrestle with.


  Cameron Doudu is a writer and commentator.

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