By Satish Sekar ©Satish Sekar (April 30th 2023)
30 years ago today (April 28th) the world awoke to the terrible news that Zambian football had lost its Golden Generation to a plane crash – the worst air disaster to affect a national football team. Eighteen players died in the crash, including Kelvin Mutale – he scored a hat-trick against Mauritius days earlier in the last match this talented team would ever play. The team doctor, three officials of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ), a journalist, five crew members and two of the greatest players Zambia had ever produced, Godfrey Chitalu and Alex Chola, the coach and assistant coach of the KK11, perished in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after the Zambian Air Force’s DHC-5 Buffalo left Gabon’s capital Libreville.
Despite several changes in government, the occasional pledge, the official report has never been released. The conclusions of a Gabonese report indicating pilot error – not the sole cause – was released twenty years ago. There were, however, serious issues regarding the flight-worthiness of that plane – the truth about what happened to those national heroes, and why, has yet to emerge three decades later.
Events such as this were pivotal in the history of African football and deserve to be commemorated to the fullest. The 30th anniversary has just passed. It was highlighted on platforms of the Confédération Africain de Football (CAF), and there was remembrance in Zambia. @CAF Media released the tweet below:
“Today, 30 years later, we still remember the brave Zambian national team players who lost their lives along the coastline in Gabon. We will never forget. Condolences to the people of Zambia.”
But was this (see https://twitter.com/CAF_Media/status/1651918952379867137) enough.
At a press conference of the Local Organising Committee and CAF for the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on the 30th anniversary of the Crash, I asked the Secretary-General of CAF, Véron Mosengo-Omba the following question:
“Today [April 28th] is the 30th anniversary of one the greatest disasters in African football, the Gabon Plane Crash that has affected Zambia, Africa and football so badly. What I wanted to know is what will CAF do to commemorate this tragic event at the Under-17 AFCON tomorrow and possibly at Constantine when Zambia play their first match?
He passed the question to CAF Media Manager, Charlotte Eyoum.
“Okay, the first text has been communicated and [is] reminding [us of] this important memory,” she said.
“It is something real sad and across all CAF platforms the information has been shared and all CAF and the great family of African football is there sharing this tough moment for Zambia with the whole people of Zambia, so I think we’ll continue and we’ll wait, of course, for the official communication from the top management to guide us in this and to apply something very good and also to remind us of this important event that happened.”
Consideration was given, but none of the matches, including Zambia’s opening fixture against Nigeria, had a minute’s silence. Not that it matters, but my view is that the 30 Zambian National Heroes deserved no less.