One fine day, Kalusha Bwalya woke up and realised that the fighting wasn’t taking the game, which he had given everything for, anywhere and the time had come for the madness to stop.
On the night of February 12, 2012, in the city where the ill-fated heroes of ’93 boarded their last flight before crashing into the Atlantic shortly after take-off, Zambian football toasted its finest hour.
Not far away from the stage of their greatest hour in sport, lay the scene that provided the lasting reminder of their worst sporting tragedy — the area off the coast of Libreville where a chartered military plane, carrying their national team, plunged into the Atlantic in April ’93.
As a world, which has always sympathised with the Zambians since that tragedy, exploded in celebrations after their dramatic 8-7 penalty shootout victory over Cote d’Ivoire to win the Nations Cup, this all appeared too good to be true.
How could life write such an incredible script, for a nation that had known so much pain from the echoes from the graves of those fallen footballers that now lay permanently adjacent to the Independence Stadium, to triumph in the city that used to represent ultimate tragedy?
In that tragedy, Godfrey “Ucar” Chitalu, a legendary forward who had emerged from the Copperbelt to inspire his country to the final of the ’74 Nations Cup, where they held a star-studded Zaire 2-2 before falling 0-2 in the only final to be replayed, perished.
Chitalu was now coach of Chipolopolo, when they met their cruel fate, and that tragedy in Gabon also claimed Alex Chola, as good a naturally-gifted forward as they will ever come, not only in Africa, but certainly in the entire world.
The Class of ’74, Chitalu and Company, and the Class of ’94, Kalusha and Company, which reached the final of the Nations Cup but came short of bringing the trophy home had, until the incredible events of February 12 this year, represented the benchmark in success stories for Zambian football.
The Class of ’94 found global warmth and love because they were built from the ashes of a tragedy and Kalusha, who had somehow managed to escape the doom that befell his fallen teammates simply because he was connecting straight from his base in Europe, provided the inspirational role.
On the night of February 12, this year, Kalusha was toasted as a Messiah by Zambian players and the coaching staff, as they celebrated their finest hour in football, with the legend being feted for his leadership qualities, as head of the Football Association of Zambia, which had now brought this glorious sunshine.
Since that night when our neighbours came of age, I have spent countless hours looking at their template for success, their ill-fated journey to the Promised Land, the challenges they faced and conquered and why today Zambia stands proudly as the champions of Africa.
I have looked at what is happening here at home, our endless quest to get to the Promised Land, the challenges that we face and, somehow, we fail to conquer and why today we stand isolated, walking alone, and barely recognisable as the BIG team that the Zambians were lucky to steal a draw from on their way to reaching the Nations Cup final.
When you look at all the fights that are exploding everywhere in our football today, the charged atmosphere where the language is very militant, the “them and us” language that prevails and dominates every conversation, the deep divisions, deep suspicions, hatred etc, you have a right to wonder where this is all taking us to.
When you realise that, in the week we are beginning a fresh World Cup campaign, the Warriors have been pushed into second place by people fighting wars that never seem to end, pushing their agendas to compete with Musona for headlines, you have a right to wonder if we will ever scale the heights that Chipolopolo cleared.
When you see that a mere testimonial, featuring a former Warriors captain, had the capital rocking throughout the week leading to that game, with all newspapers focused on the game, and a big World Cup qualifier, which is bigger than the testimonial, hasn’t created a quarter of that hype, you have a right to ask questions.
When you see that Rahman Gumbo has received less coverage this week on issues that are a positive spin to the Warriors across the entire media spectrum, when compared to what Jomo Sono and Lucas Radebe got last week for taking charge of the Friends of Benjani in an exhibition game, you have a right to ask questions.
It’s the big question but when we deliberately push boardroom issues onto the frontline, and all the ugliness that comes with such issues, ahead of the beauty of what is happening in our camp, in the big week that we are starting a World Cup campaign, then we have noone but ourselves to blame.
There is always a time for everything but, when it comes to our football, it’s something that we don’t attach a value to.
I’m pretty sure that Fifa, in the week that they are re-negotiating their deal with Coca-Cola, will try very hard to ensure that it’s where their focus is fixed on and any issues, which could be simmering but that have the potential of destroying their negotiations, will be shelved for another day.
I’m so sure that Cricket South Africa, in the week that they are re-negotiating their deal with Castle Lager, will try very hard to ensure that whatever promotions they have with cricketer Hasim Amla, who doesn’t want to have the Castle logo displayed on his jersey, will have to wait for another day, because of its potential of destroying the negotiations.
For our brothers in South Africa this week, all that mattered was the World Cup game against Ethiopia and not the story of the Fifa match-fixing investigators who are in Johannesburg today and tomorrow, having been there in February to sort out some issues related to Bafana, the 2010 World Cup and Raj Perumal.
Just imagine, for a minute, if those Fifa guys were coming here this week?
The Italians are battling a huge match-fixing scandal right now and, given their status as four-time World Champions, it’s a huge story around the world but they haven’t closed shop, have they, and they are even looking at becoming European champions next month.
Because long after all this boardroom drama has died down, history will judge them and us and it will focus on what we did in the Nations and World Cup campaigns and, in our case, our kids will sit in the offices we occupy today and boast about the day we qualified for the World Cup because that is all that matters.
The Zambian kids already have something to discuss, and boast about, when they grow up because, on that dramatic night in Libreville four months ago, their football lives were defined when Chipolopolo came of age and were crowned champions of Africa.
Kalusha Shines But It Was’t Always Easy
Interestingly, when I was going through the files of how the Zambians travelled to their finest hour of triumph, I realised that there were a lot of stunning similarities between the challenges they faced and what we are going through in our football today.
Kalusha is now the hero of Zambian football, after playing the leading role in Chipolopolo’s triumph at the Nations Cup finals, and when he was challenged for the FAZ presidency in March, he won by a landslide. But it never used to be so plain-sailing, it never used to be so easy, the picture was never this beautiful.
Just three years ago, Zambian football, just like ours today, was dominated by divisions, full of militias, warring camps, and Kalusha wasn’t only thrown out in a vote of no confidence by his board but he was also suspended by the National Sports Council of Zambia.
It was a jungle, a war zone littered with landmines, where only the fittest survived and the relationship between FAZ and the Zambian sports media was characterised by deep-rooted suspicion and lack of trust, deteriorating by each passing day and culminating in an incident when Kalusha assaulted The Post’s leading football writer Augustine Mukoka.
The incident happened at a Fifa function in Cape Town in December, 2009, as South Africa were preparing to host the 2010 World Cup and the Zambian team, the majority of whose players would rise to win the Nations Cup final three years later, had just been humbled 1-3 by the Warriors in a Cosafa Cup final at Rufaro.
Kalusha confirmed slapping Mukoka, a fierce critic of him back then, in the presence of Fifa official Emmanuel Maradas, 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee members Richard Mkhondo and Jermain Craig at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
A police report was made and charges preferred against the Zambian legend who later apologised to the journalist, with the charges being dropped.
But Kalusha’s opponents in the polarised world of Zambian football and sport then, who were always looking for anything to nail their opponent, seized on the incident and made it a big issue back home in Lusaka.
Football administrators who were fiercely anti-Kalusha then jumped on the bandwagon and Simataa Simaata, one of the leading figures in the game across the Zambezi, challenged the National Sports Council of Zambia to kick Kalusha out of FAZ.
Another Zambian sports administrator, Frank Munthali, joined in and said Kalusha was a frustrated man because he has failed to perform his duties and was now venting his anger on anyone.
“Clearly he (Kalusha) has violated the constitution but it will need someone who is brave to call an extra-ordinary meeting, he should step down, apologising is not enough,” Munthali said.
“The other reason why he should step down is that you can’t run Faz from 2 000 kilometres away, leaving the running of the office to a pathetic executive, what if the minister wants to talk to him or the President?”
Kalusha’s base was in Johannesburg.
Nine months earlier, the National Sports Council of Zambia had suspended Kalusha from all sporting engagements after he failed to appear before a parliamentary committee to answer questions over the role he played in the controversial transfer of Emmanuel Mayuka from Kabwe Warriors to Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel. Bwalya was suspended by the government body for refusing to appear before the council’s disciplinary committee to answer charges relating to the transfer of a minor to Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv last year.
Striker Mayuka, who would go on to play a big role in Zambia winning their maiden Nations Cup title in Gabon, was transferred to Tel-Aviv in 2008, as a minor, in a deal brokered by Kalusha and his FAZ deputy then, Emmanuel Munaile, who issued the International Transfer Certificate.
Kabwe Warriors, who owned the signature of the player, accused FAZ of issuing an ITC without their consent and their complaint triggered a government response with the Sports Council launching a 50-day investigation, complete with public hearings, into the matter.
So heated was the issue that it spilled into parliament and a 90-page report into the transfer claimed that Kalusha and Munaile personally influenced the issuing of the ITC, without the greenlight from his club, because of the commercial spin-offs in the deal for them.
Kalusha was even described as a CORRUPT official by a Zambian priest, Reverend Alfred Sayila, who staggered into the dabate, to give it a spiritual face, and challenged the country’s authorities to “mete out stiff punishment to those corrupt soccer officials who may have had a hand in the illicit transfer of Mayuka”.
But for Fifa’s intervention, Kalusha would have been history in Zambian football today, forgotten by the country he served with distinction as a player and captain and thrown into the dustbins where you find the remains of those who are deemed corrupt by society.
Fifa secretary-general, Jerome Valcke, warned the Zambians that it’s either they lifted Kalusha’s suspension or faced expulsion from the world football governing body.
Those who criticised Kalusha said there was conflict of interest in his FAZ and business affairs because his wife, Emmy Cassalleti, was the manager of the Zambian striker, Collins Mbesuma, and was also involved with Nike who then landed a deal with the Zambian national team.
The dossier that Kalusha’s critics wanted to use to nail him also claimed he had purchased three vehicles from Japan without going to tender, as provided by the FAZ constitution, and slammed his role in the so-called London debacle where FAZ ended up fielding Zambian students in London, for a friendly international against Ghana, after visa complications resulted in many players failing to travel.
How The Zambians Found Peace
One fine day, Kalusha woke up and realised that the fighting wasn’t taking the game, which he had given everything for, anywhere and the time had come for the madness to stop.
He knew that for all the support he was getting from Fifa, he still needed his country to pull in one direction and without a united front, his leadership would fail.
Kalusha didn’t want to be remembered as Zambia’s greatest football player who turned into its worst football leader because he knew that, without the fights, he could show his true colours but, as long as the fighting continued, many would throw spanners into the works.
So, in one heroic moment, Kalusha swallowed his pride and went to the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation TV studios on a Friday evening and addressed his Zambian nation.
He said he was sorry that he had failed to heed heed the call to attend the hearing from the country’s sports watchdog.
“I would like to apologise to the National Sports Council and Dr Julius Sakala (NSCZ chairman) for any inconvenience that was caused by my not appearing at the said meeting,” Kalusha told ZNBC TV.
“Faz will try to work extremely hard, extremely well with cordial relation with the National Sports Council and the ministry (of sport).” Kalusha said he was ready to answer any questions over Mayuka’s controversial transfer to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
With that show of statesmanship, in which he put his country’s interests ahead of his personal pride and all the petty wars he was fighting, Kalusha closed a dark chapter in Zambian football and opened one where there was light everywhere.
In that stoke of genius, where he showed that true leaders also need to look beyond just what is good for them and, at times, even retreat for the good of their constituency, Kalusha laid a firm foundation for the prosperity of Zambian football.
Two years later, all the wounds that had been opened in those shadowy wars, had been healed and Zambia stood proudly at the top of the African football tree with Mukoka, that journalist who had become FAZ’s arch-enemy to the extent that Kalusha slapped him, writing the best story of that triumph.
Mayuka, as fate would have it, played a big role in that success story.
Lessons From Zambia
As we navigate the stormy waters in which our football remains polarised and fights are erupting just about everywhere, it’s good that we take a leaf from the Zambians because, if you look carefully at what was happening there three years ago, you will see that we have similar stories.
These fights, this disunity, these camps, these militias, these cracks, will certainly not take us anywhere because, when these Zambians had these fights, they couldn’t beat our home-based players and lost 1-3 in the final of the Cosafa Cup at Rufaro.
Now, the same Zambians, having seen the light and embraced unity where all they used to see was the need to fight, are now the champions of Africa and have a football brand that is in progress.
It’s never too late for us to say that enough is enough, because it was never too late for the Zambians, and there is no doubt that there is greatness that can be extracted from our football brand if we get the right focus and we concentrate on things that really matter.
What the Zimbabwean football fans want, when all is said and done, is seeing their team at the Nations Cup finals and, to them, if the Zambians can win it, they believe we can win it too.
Our role as people who have influence in the administration of the national game is to try and create a conducive environment, which gives the best possible chances of success for their team, and once that success is achieved, the rest of the stuff won’t matter much.
We should be asking ourselves, one by one, what are we really doing for the good of our game, for the success of our clubs on the continent and the success of our national teams?
Kalusha had his moment of introspection one fine day and decided what was right for his country, dumped the petty fights and embraced his opponents and fought for what was good for Chipolopolo.
Today, noone remembers him as a coward but a hero. We all have to do that, especially in our poisoned football landscape, because a lot of what is happening today, the petty fights, the camps, the cracks, you name it, are not taking us anywhere.
Rahman Gumbo’s Words of Wisdom
“All we need to be successful is to change our attitude. We are not serious. I have to be frank, THERE IS JUST TOO MUCH POLITICS WITHIN ZIMBABWEAN FOOTBALL WHICH POSIONS EVERYTHING.
“There is too much back-stabbing and there are always maneuvers to bring down whoever is at the helm of the Warriors. I am here on a temporary basis but I know there are efforts to bring me down but what we need as Zimbabweans is to unite and support whoever is in charge.
“If I leave and someone else comes in, we should support that person and I pledge to do so. Even if you do not like the character, if he is in charge, what Zimbabwe needs is for everyone to support him.
“WE HAVE THE TALENT AND GOOD PLAYERS BUT AS LONG AS WE PULL IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS, WE WILL NOT SUCCEED,” said Gumbo, in a media interview this week.
Need I say more?
Thank You, Rahman Gumbo for your vision mate and may God Bless You!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
With Knowledge, comes Powerrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
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