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KENNETH KAUNDA: ZAMBIA’S MOST FOOTBALL PASSIONATE PRESIDENT

“Must be turning in his grave to see the game on deathbed”

At a filled-to rafters Independence Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia’s founding father Kenneth Kaunda majestically walks to the pitch from the VIP stand to show off his football juggling skills as fans go on rapturous excitement.

On a separate event Kaunda is seen, neither in his traditional safari suit nor his white handkerchief; but in a referee attire and whistle planted to his mouth.

Unequivocally, the man widely known as KK remains to this day Zambia’s most fervent President vis-a-vis football.

It is no wonder before the 1993 Gabon Air clash, which saw the entire national team wiped into the Indian Ocean, the senior men’s team was nicknamed the KK11.

President Kaunda in a referees uniform

On 24th October 1964, as Zambia attained her Independence after rattling the chains of colonialism from the British, football was part of the festivities at the newly built Independence stadium.

Kaunda as the first Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) patron invited his friend and mentor Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana to play the first FIFA sanctioned match at Independence stadium.

Jackie Sewell captained the newly liberated Zambia before hanging his boots and later coached the City of Lusaka. He became the only few professionals to have played for two senior men’s national teams: England and Zambia respectively.

Under KK’s reign, it was conventional for the entire cabinet to take part in exhibition matches. He would also invite the team at State House for lavish luncheons.

In 1974, Zambia earned her first berth at the Africa Cup of the nations and would go all the way to the final of the showpiece; losing the final to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 2nd leg.

Later, the Southern African nation unveiled herself on the global stage following a 4-0 thumping in the last-16 of the 1988 Olympics before losing to Germany in the quarterfinals.

Now a football legend, Kalusha Bwalya scored a hatrick in the famous 4-0 win against Italy and was later that year crowned African player of the year.

Kaunda’s passion for football influenced the corporate world, particularly the mining industry which churned huge investments in the local league.

Domestically, the game was on its rise trajectory.

In 1990, Kitwe domiciled Nkana FC qualified to the final of the prestigious CAF Champions League but fell to Algeria’s JS Kabyle in the second leg, away from their fortress in Lusaka.

Later in 1991 as Kaunda was out of office for trade unionists President Fedrick Chiluba, another Copperbelt side Power Dynamos won the Mandela Cup, now CAF Confederation Cup.

       1993 GABON AIR CLASH

The 1993 Gabon Air clash in Libreville did not only rob the nation of her possible maiden appearance at the FIFA World Cup but ended the KK11 era, followed by a transition to the Chipolopolo boys (Copper bullet).

In 1994 Zambia was again at the cusp of winning the coveted Africa Cup of the nations in Tunisia but fell short to the golden generation of Nigeria (Jay-jay Okocha, Stephen Keshi, Sunday Mbar whatnot) in the final.

            2012 AFCON TRIUMPH

In Gabon, a stone throw to the terrain where the plane carrying the Zambia national team to Senegal clashed; the Chipolopolo boys entered the annals of African football history as they were crowned Champions of Africa after beating Cote d’Ivoire on post-match penalties.

Kenneth Kaunda was present at Stade d’Angondjé in Libreville as a guest to then-President Michael SATA. He finally put his hands on the trophy that eluded him as president when captain Christopher Katongo presented the trophy to him.

ZAMBIAN FOOTBALL ON DEATHBED

The events of post-2012 AFCON glory have seen back-to-back failures in 2013 and 2015 as the Chipolopo boys were eliminated in the first round.

For the 2017, 2019, and 2021 editions Zambia has completely failed to make the Africa Cup of nations.

While there has been a success at the Junior and women’s level – it is the senior men’s team that is the mainstay for the Copper-rich nation.

2021 THE MUSIC STOPS FOR KAUNDA

At the age of 97, just 3 years short of a century KK answered the Lord’s call after a short illness at Maina Soko clinic. He was put to rest at Embassy Park, a burial site for the erstwhile heads of state.

As the Total energies, Africa Cup of Nations is currently taking center stage in Cameroon and Zambia not taking part, the composer of the TIYENDE PAMODZI NDI MTIMA UMO must be turning in his grave.

[James Sibeleki is an African Football Scribe based in Livingstone Zambia] / to choose a block

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