Five years ago we published this article on the 25th anniversary of the Gabon Plane Crash. That anniversary was marked by personal messages from the leaders of African and world football at the time and a call from goalkeeping legend, David Efford Chabala’s son for he release of the official report into the deaths of the 300 National Heroes that included his father. Five years on, the report has yet to be released.
By Satish Sekar in Lusaka © Satish Sekar (April 28th 2018)
25 years ago today the heart and soul of Zambian football – the nation even – was ripped away from an expectant nation. While on national duty, perhaps the greatest Zambian team ever was taken in the cruellest manner. The Gabon Plane Crash is now seared into the national psyche.
The Guest of Honour was Lusaka Province Minister, Bowman Lusambo. Others attending included former national coach Col. Bright Banda, national team captain Ackim Musenge, 2007 African Footballer of the Year, Frédéric Kanouté, and the Under-20 team.
Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) President, Andrew Kamanga, outgoing General Secretary Ponga Liwewe, and other FAZ officials attended. Most important of all members of the deceased’s families paid tribute to the cream of Zambian football who perished in the early hours of April 28th 1993 off the coast of Gabon.
Kamanga paid tribute to his predecessor ‘national icon’ Kalusha Bwalya and the reconstituted team that Bwalya led. Kamanga said that World Cup qualification was necessary to honour the fallen heroes. The memorial was addressed by Freeman Chabala on behalf of the victims’ families.
Freeman’s father was goalkeeping legend, David Efford Chabala. He paid tribute to FAZ for continuing the remembrance of that terrible day. He also thanked President Edgar Chagwa Lungu. The President was one of the lawyers who fought tirelessly for 11 years to win compensation for the victims. Lungu was Minister of Justice and Defence in Michael Sata’s government.
Chabala called for the release of the report into the crash, noting that they had been told that it would take 25 years, and that 25 years had now passed. He also called for their lives to be celebrated now.
The Lost Generation
Chabala’s father Efford, and team-mates John Soko, Whiteson Changwe, Robert Watiyakeni, Eston Mulenga, Derby Makinka, Moses Chikwalakwala, Godfrey Kangwa, Kelvin Mutale, Wisdom Chansa, Timothy Mwitwa, Richard Mwanza, Winter Mumba, Samuel Chomba, Moses Masuwa, Patrick Banda, Kenani Simambe and Numba Mwila died in the Crash.
Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu, the legendary striker who scored 116 goals in 1972 and 81 four years earlier, arguably the greatest player Zambia ever produced was appointed coach of the KK11 for the qualification campaign. They were unbeaten during his reign perished in the Crash along with another great player, who had joined the coaching staff, Alex Chola.
FAZ President Michael Mwape, Executive Member Wilson Sakala, team medic Wilson Mtonga, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Sport, Nelson Zimba, and journalist Joseph Salim also died in the crash. Flight crew members were Michael Fenton Mhone, the head-pilot, co-pilots James Sachika and Victor Mubanga, the flight-planner Edward Nambote and steward, Thomson Sakala also lost their lives in the disaster.
All are buried in Heroes Acre, in sight of the Independence Stadium which they graced, and National Heroes Stadium which is named in their honour.
Messages of support and solidarity came from the football family. Kamanga read a message from FIFA President Gianni Infantino. CAF President Ahmad Ahmad sent the following message:
“Till this day, Tuesday, 27 April 1993 remains the darkest moment in the history of Zambian football and one that shocked the entire football world.
Such a painful memory when the plane carrying the Zambian team for a World Cup qualifier against Senegal crashed off the coast of Libreville, Gabon, killing all 30 persons on board, can never be forgotten so easily especially as the 18 players who died constituted probably the best team in the history of Zambian football.
As we mark the 25th anniversary of the painful incident, On behalf of CAF Executive Committee, African football family and my own behalf, I would like express sincerest sympathies to the families who lost relatives, Football Association of Zambia and the entire Zambian population. Our thoughts are with you in this difficult period”.
The memorial concluded with Bright Banda and Ackim Musenge presenting a jersey signed by Black Star legends to Joyce Chabala (Efford’s widow) in solidarity with the victims. She presented it to the Guest of Honour. FAZ will ensure that it remains a symbol of eternal solidarity between Ghana and Zambia.