Zambia celebrates as team wins AFCON
Lusaka - Zambians poured out of their houses, clubs and bars to celebrate in the streets early on Monday after watching their team beat Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties in the African Cup finals.
It was a bittersweet victory in Libreville, Gabon. Last week after arriving for the finals, Zambia's current players laid flowers on a stretch of sand in Libreville not far from where a Zambian military plane crashed into the ocean soon after takeoff in 1993, killing 25 players and officials on board as well as a state news agency sports reporter and the military transport plane's crew.
Back in 1993, state broadcasters interrupted normal programming to announce the crash in the eight languages spoken in Zambia. In Lusaka, the capital, men and women wept in offices and on the streets.
On Monday, there were only cheers.
"It is a dream come true," said David Phiri, a plumber. Then he blew hard on his vuvuzela, the piercing trumpet heard around the world during broadcasts from the World Cup in neighbouring South Africa in 2010.
Jubilant Zambians also honked the horns of cars draped in their flag, shouted from windows, and sang football songs.
"It was written in the stars that we will be the champions," Winfreda Muyunda said breathlessly as she ran out to join a street party that had converged in front of a Lusaka police station. Some women were in their night gowns covered by traditional cotton wrappers known as chitenge, while most men and boys were shirtless.
The spontaneous street parties after the nerve-racking win were in defiance of police minister Kennedy Sakeni, who had said there would be no reason for people to leave their homes to celebrate. Many workers are hoping the government will declare a public holiday in coming days.
In the lead-up to the final, Zambians at home and abroad rejected predictions that Ivory Coast would be too strong for their Chipolopolo. Fans have been partying and blowing their vuvuzelas. Traders have done a roaring business in shirts, scarves, caps and chitenge in national colours, as well as national flags.
President Michael Sata gave Vice President Guy Scott the honour of representing his government at the final. Scott was accompanied to Gabon by Kenneth Kaunda, who led Zambia to independence from Britain in 1964 and was its president for 27 years, and Sata's predecessor Rupiah Banda. At least two planeloads of football fans took off from Lusaka early on Sunday morning for Libreville.
"The pain of that  crash still lingers and we must all remember that those players perished while trying to achieve victory and honour for our beloved country," Banda, who is a former Football Association president, declared before he departed with other members of the government delegation.