Zambia rests its ghosts after magic moment

2012-02-18 19:30

Stopilla Sunzu’s winning penalty in the finals of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations did not just win a match of football, but provided a bridge between the most glorious moment in the country’s sporting life and the darkest hour in Zambia’s football history.

The top prize was won in the same city – Libreville – where 19 years ago began a sore memory for Zambia after their entire team perished in a plane crash en route to fulfilling a World Cup qualifying fixture
in Dakar.

It was that mixed mesh of emotions that engulfed the nation as it broke into a frenzy after Sunzu capped his finest performance at the tournament with a penalty kick that guaranteed him a place
in history.

This week, government chipped in as Sports Minister Chishimba Kambwili announced that each player would get $59000 (about R457 000). The amounts received from the Confederation of African Football and the corporate world would see each player pocketing slightly more than $100 000.

That magical moment may have put to rest the ghosts of the fallen heroes, but rest was the last thing on the minds of the thousands of fans back home, who spilled into the streets to celebrate the victory.

In Lusaka, fans draped in national colours littered the streets, spicing up their excitement with songs and dance. A few went an inch further by stripping.

Sunzu admitted the players were given a unique reception in Zambia after the final.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “Such a thing has never happened before in our country. People marched through the streets of Lusaka to celebrate with us and we were received like heroes.”

Fans set off for the airport as early as 2am in readiness for the arrival of the team later in the day.
Libreville was painted green and orange.

The orange caused a bit of confusion as it was the traditional colour of Ivory Coast, but it was also the colour of sponsors Orange Africa.

The few Chipolopolo fans wearing the orange strip were swallowed up in the colour confusion, but in the nightspots the colour of your strip didn’t matter. It was all Chipolopolo!

At the stroke of dawn, the party shifted to the airport, where thousands of fans awaited their heroes. But you didn’t need to go as far as the airport to sense the mood in the country.

Almost every inch of Great East Road – a stretch of 25km from Kabwe Roundabout to the airport – was packed with fans.

The arrival of the plane carrying former presidents Kenneth Kaunda and Rupiah Banda fuelled commotion at the airport as fans thought it was the plane carrying the team.

This gave the security personnel a sense of how difficult their task would become once the team arrived.
When the plane carrying the team finally touched down at 3.53pm, the police had long lost their grip on the crowd.

The plane was swarmed by hundreds of fans itching to catch a glimpse of the returning players.

Even the government delegation led by Lusaka Province Minister Gerry Chanda had to settle for a withdrawn position under heavy military guard to welcome
the players.

Amid the confusion, Vice-President Guy Scott emerged first and was huddled through the crowds to his official car.
It took another five minutes for the security personnel to give the players the all clear to disembark.

Whatever remained of sanity withered away until the players and coach were safely transported onto two
open-roofed military trucks for a procession that started at 4.25pm.

The procession, which headed to the showgrounds for a parade, lasted more than an hour and a half. A road drive ordinarily takes 20 minutes.

It proved too ambitious a plan. Even Scott, who was set to address the gathering, abandoned his mission after a brief appearance.

The best the players could do was make an appearance before being whisked away.

At this stage, the fans couldn’t care less and were happy to just delight in the moment. After all. the champions were in town.

The following day, Valentine’s Day, First Lady Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata hosted a luncheon, where the corporate world made financial contributions to the national team.

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