Sunday, July 21, 2024

Blog: The Gabon Disaster, my experience – Magande

At the time of the Gabon disaster, Magande was the managing director of Zanaco –

Excerpt from Magande’s book “The Depth of My Footprints”

The Gabon Disaster, my experience

“To my knowledge, the wreck was never salvaged, it still lies on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean”

“In April 1993, the ZANACO gave an advance to the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) for the national team’s trip to Mozambique.

While the team was away, FAZ Chairman Michael Mwape came to see me and asked for some further financial assistance for the team’s trip to Senegal in West Africa.

I demanded that they must first pay back the money they’d borrowed before we could consider another advance.

From his passionate and detailed explanation, there was not enough time, as the team was just passing through Zambia on their way to West Africa.

As an ardent supporter of the national football team and as I had consulted my chairman on the first request, which was approved, I approved another advance.

The team connected through Lusaka, where more players and officials including FAZ Chairman Mwape joined on the journey to Senegal via Gabon by a Zambia Air Force military plane.

A few days later on 27 April 1993, I left for the USA at the invitation of the NCR Corporation, the suppliers of computers to our bank.

Former Zambia finance minister Magande

On our first day, we had to leave Washington DC very early in the morning for a visit to one of the computer warehousing facilities.

As we were having our early breakfast, one of our hosts came over to me and whispered that the plane carrying the Zambia National Team had crashed in West Africa.

He continued to say that from the reports received, all on board had perished.
I could not hold back my tears as I dropped my utensils and started sobbing publicly.

We abandoned our breakfast and I retired to my room with a sense of guilt.

I concluded that it was our bank’s financial assistance that enabled the team to undertake the fateful journey.

I vividly recalled my conversation with FAZ Chairman Mwape, as he’d pleaded with me that without our financial support the team would not make it to Senegal for the match.

He was not aware that even with our bank’s financial assistance, the match was not going to be played.

The buffalo plane

We cancelled the day’s tour programme and the delegation remained at the hotel in mourning for the sporting heroes.

As I was now on hypertension treatment, I prescribed to myself another dose of medicine after six hours due to the sad news.

Our three weeks’ trip, both in the USA and Scotland was a sorrowful one as we had to answer many questions, everywhere we went, about the accident from so many people, who spoke highly of the departed football players.

On our return to Zambia, I brought the matter of the FAZ advance to our board with a recommendation to have the amounts for the two trips written off. The situation was that the cash drowned with the footballers and no one alive was to be held accountable.

The board accepted my recommendation, although the chairman made some comments apportioning some blame on my management.

A few weeks later, the Zambian Government requested the bank for a loan to be used for the salvaging of the ZAF plane off the coast of Gabon.

Some of the bodies being removed

As I was aware that the Zambian Government had no capacity to undertake such a task, I requested for a copy of a contract signed with an organization that was competent in salvaging operations.

I insisted on such documentation in view of the large loan amount requested.

When no such documentation was presented, I declined to take the government’s request to the Board. This raised a lot of resentment against me within the Government circles.

I learnt later that the loan was approved by the ZANACO Board, a few weeks after I had left the bank. During a trip to Gabon in 1997, I visited the accident site and was informed that no salvaging work was ever undertaken by the Zambian Government and the plane wreckage was still at the bottom of the deep ocean.

The report on the plane accident has not been released to the chagrin of the living relatives of the accident victims.

Consultations on the compensation to the thirty affected families were protracted and only concluded and the families paid in 2004 after I became Minister of Finance in President Mwanawasa’s administration.
After our trip to the USA and Scotland in 1993, I was eager and confident to implement the computerization of the bank.

We had become acquainted with the latest equipment, which we were shown during our tour of the NCR installations in Dundee, the “City of Discovery” and the home of the first automated teller machine (ATM) in 1967.

One of the computerization milestones achieved by my management was the installation of the first ATM in Zambia’s banking industry. I recall the exuberant mood of the ZANACO staff and guests, as the ATM, dubbed ‘ZANACO 24’, located at the entrance to the head office building, was inaugurated.

The bank’s popularity rose resulting in an increased clientele and the bank’s profit before taxation, which went up from K1,884 million for the year ended March 1992 to K4,072 million for the year ended March 1994”, from ”.

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  1. People have been waiting for years for the Gabon report til now. We would like to know what exactly happened in Gabon when the plane went down.

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