Bells are ringing, vuvulezas (long horns) are honking and people are celebrating wherever you go today in Zambia. If you haven’t heard yet, underrated, underappreciated, never-gonna-win Zambia won the Africa Cup for “football”!! (That’s soccer to you heathens across the Atlantic.)
It’s so exciting to be here now. On my way to the grocery store this morning I passed cars with Zambia flags draped across their hoods honking at whomever they passed, pedestrians wrapped in national colors waving to passers-by, and pick-ups packed with people jubilantly dancing, singing and cheering. I got a text message from a friend warning me to not come downtown as it was complete mayhem with fans wanting to be there to greet the footballers. The Lusaka Times reports: “And scores of jubilant fans have walked to Kenneth Kaunda international Airport to welcome the champions of African football.” ( Mind you, the airport is 15 km outside of the city.)
For nearly every game they entered in the play-offs, the other team was favored to win, yet Zambia somehow kept winning. Their rallying cry was, this was their year to win, to make up for the 1993 Africa Cup where they were favored to win, but couldn’t because on the way to a play-off game just off the coast of Gabon (where this final was being played) nearly the entire football team was killed in an airplane crash.
On April 27, 1993, “After taking off from Libreville in Gabon, a Zambian military plane carrying most of the national squad crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, within a mile of the Gabonese coast, killing all 30 people on board. Among those who perished were the coach, Godfrey Chitalu, and 18 players including Kelvin Mutale who had just scored a hat-trick against Mauritius in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. The Zambians were en route to Senegal for a World Cup qualifier which they were expected to win…For the best part of the next 20 years, Zambian football entered the doldrums. Now they are back in the Africa Cup of Nations final and, in a twist of fate, the Zambia team is back in Libreville for the first time since the crash.”
The whole team gathered last week at the crash site to honor a team an entire generation before them. (To hear the original BBC report in 1993, listen to this: Archive: the BBC covers Zambia’s 1993 air disaster.)
The game didn’t start until 9.30 pm our time. We don’t have a TV but it’s kind of exciting listening to it on radio. During a pause Thom walked around the property and discovered our guard was no where to be found. Of course, Thom knew exactly where he’d find him. He went to the caretaker’s one-room home outside our block walls (recently outfitted with electricity), and found our guard and the caretaker’s family gathered around a tiny black-and-white 12-inch television. The picture was static-y and the horizontal didn’t work half the time but everyone was glued to the little box. This guard is a relatively new guard, named George (Gabriel got fired after he decided to go home early one day and not tell anyone, and we discovered it because we were leaving for the airport early and there was no guard to be found anywhere on the property), and George was mortified that Thom had caught him. Thom said he was stern with him but also said that he could go by the caretaker’s house every ten minutes or so to check on the score, but George was so embarrassed that he said he’d just listen to the game on the radio and he was the perfect patroller the rest of the night.
It was truly a nail-biter of a game. The game ended with a score of 0-0. They went into the penalty kick-off phase and at the end of that the score was tied 5-5. Next, they went into the sudden death phase. Ivory Coast kicked first and made the shot, score 6-5. Zambia matched it, score 6-6. Ivory Coast went again and again made the shot, score 7-6. Zambia again matched it, score 7-7. Ivory Coast kicked and missed the shot(!), score 7-7. Zambia kicked and also(!) missed it(!!), score 7-7. Ivory Coast kicked and again missed the shot, score still 7-7. Zambia went and made the shot(!!!!!!!), score 7-8!!!!!!!!!
The UK-Zambia site summed it up well: “In emphatic fashion, Zambia’s Chipolopolo indelibly etched their name in Africa’s football history by defeating a star-studded Ivory Coast team 8-7 in a penalty shoot-out, against all expectations and became the second Southern African country to win the African Cup of Nations.”
Go Copper Bullets!! …er… (untranslated) I mean…GO CHIPOLOPOLO!
p.s. I’ve pasted in today’s editorial from The Post of Zambia – it captures the current atmosphere in Lusaka well.
By The Post on Monday 13 February 2012, 12:30:00 CAT
“YOU can get it if you really want, but you must try, try and try. You’ll succeed at last… But the harder the battle you see, it’s the sweeter the victory…” sang Jimmy Cliff in a reggae rhythm. Our hearts should expand on this day, which calls to memory the conquest achieved by determination over despair.Determination and hard work is to rejoice on this day, and useful to reflect their own; so that we rejoice the real, and not imaginary, good; and reflect on the positive advantages we achieved last night in Gabon, and those which it is ours farther to achieve.
For this – for the wonderful result achieved and yet in store for our country -let us rejoice! But let us rejoice as reasoning beings, not as ignorants or idiots going around destroying things, causing accidents and killing ourselves. So shall we rejoice to good purpose and in good feeling; so shall we improve the victory once last night achieved.
Close to 19 years ago, we lost our entire national soccer team in a terrible plane crash off the coast of Gabon. We have never had a tragedy like that. We know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like that happen.
It’s all part of the process of trying to move forward. We picked up the pieces and soldiered on. And last night we did it in Gabon – we honoured the lives and memory of those dear ones we lost close to two decades ago in Gabon.
Truly, the future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave, the determined, the hard working, those who never give up. Those who perished in Gabon were pulling us into the future, and we have continued to follow them. And last night we did so in victory. We won. Hold your heads high now. We have won.
We must not lose ourselves, in everything that we do, including our politics, to cynicism, pessimism and despair. We can win and we have won. Wherever you are today, we challenge you to hope and to dream of a better future, a better country, a more just, fair, humane and prosperous Zambia. Don’t submerge your dreams.
Even in the gutter, dream of the day that you will be upon your feet again. You must never stop dreaming. It is said that today’s dreams are tomorrow’s reality; yesterday’s dreams are today’s reality. We have no alternative. We must continue dreaming, with the hope that a better nation, a better Zambia will become reality in the same way our soccer dreams became a reality last night in Gabon – as it will, if we keep struggling. We should never give up on our dreams, our utopias. It is that struggling for utopia means, in part, building it.
We have seen many of our dreams of the past become reality. And, since we have seen this, we have the right to keep on dreaming of things that will become realities someday, both in our country and in the world as a whole.
If we don’t think this way, we would have to stop struggling, for the only logical conclusion would be to abandon the struggle for a better Zambia, a better world, and we think that no honest, sensitive or caring person ever abandons the struggle for a more just, fair and humane society, just as they never stop dreaming of such a society, of such a world.
Face reality, yes. But don’t stop with the way things are; dream of things as they ought to be. Dream. Face pain, but love, hope, faith and dreams will help you rise above the pain. Use hope and imagination as weapons of survival and progress, but you keep on dreaming.
Dream of a peaceful and prosperous Zambia. Dream of a Zambia where every child who wants to kick a ball has access to a ball. Dream of a Zambia where every child has the possibilities or opportunities of making themselves what they want to be – a Chris Katongo, an Emmanuel Mayuka, a Kennedy Mweene, and so on and so forth.
Dream of a nation where the political leadership is honest and incorruptible, is caring and loving, is hard working and thrift. Dream of a nation in which teachers teach for life and not for a living. Dream of a Zambia with medical doctors who are concerned more about public health than private wealth. Dream of lawyers more concerned about justice than money. Dream of preachers who are concerned more about prophecy than profiteering. Dream on the high road of sound values.
Dream of a Zambia that refuses to surrender to corruption, abuse of power, intolerance and other vices. Go forward in the Chipolopolo way. Zambia must never surrender to malnutrition. We can feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We must never surrender.
We must go forward. We must never surrender to illiteracy. Let’s invest in our children so that we can have more Rainford Kalabas, more James Chamangas, more Isaac Chansas and so on and so forth. Never surrender; and let’s always go forward in the Chipolopolo way. Don’t give up. We know its tough sometimes. It took a little more effort to get there last night, to defeat Cote d’Ivoire last night.
We cannot forget 19 years ago when our backs were against the wall, when we had so many coffins to put in the ground at Independence Stadium and Michael Sata was the one assigned to be in charge at that burial site. But as usual, painful as it might have been, he took it well and could crack some jokes here and there.
Don’t you surrender and don’t give up on your dreams, on what you want your country to be. We have done it in soccer. We can do it in other things. Of course, soccer is one of the things – one of the sporting disciplines – in which our country and indeed Africa as a whole is rising to demonstrate her excellence, for too long latent in her womb.
We will do it in other things as well. Together, we will lift up the standards of our governance. Together, we will improve our economy and ensure that the basic needs of our people are met.
We have won. Let’s celebrate. Chipolopolo, iyeee; Chipolopolo iyeee, Chipolopolo iyeee …