By Benedict Tembo
PETER Cheni responds to many titles arising from his contribution to the development of football, spreading of the Gospel, entrenchment of family values and improvement of amenities in local government.
On the football pitch, he is a referee; in church, he is a deacon, at home he is a father and husband while at Ndola City Council, he is acting chief human resources manager.
Despite all these heavy responsibilities, he carries them out with abundant ease because of the passion he has for each of them.
Then add his role as a marriage counsellor at his church – Life Miracle Centre International and as a marriage registrar at the local authority to get the aggregate man.
The huge responsibilities speak volumes just how Cheni, a former powerful central defender, has transformed his life after retiring from Ndola United Football Club.
Cheni, who joined United from rivals Strike Rovers (disbanded), has religiously served the Ndola City Council for 29 years.
He has extended his service to the Ndola community which goes beyond the local authority which butters his bread.
Cheni, one of the throw-in specialists during his time, is a referee, a hobby he took up as part of his desire to continue contributing to the development of soccer in the country.
Lately, however, ministering the gospel of the risen Jesus Christ, whom he whole-heartedly and solemnly accepted as his Lord and personal Saviour, has meant that he has little time for the whistle.
At Life Miracle Centre International where he is a deacon, he is also a marriage counsellor – a responsibility which ties in very well with his other duties at the local authority where he is a registrar of marriages.
The fifth in a family of 10 – five boys and five girls – Cheni was born on April 15, 1963 in Kalulushi. His father Joseph Cheni worked for the mines but retired when Peter was in his sixth grade in 1976.
He was taken in by his elder sister, Regina Kalunga, who was a secretary at the Ministry of Education in Luanshya and later in Ndola where she retired.
Cheni did his secondary school at Roan Antelope in Luanshya and later Kansenshi in Ndola.
Cheni started his soccer career with a Kalulushi Municipal Council-sponsored amateur club.
When he moved to Ndola, he joined Bank of Zambia Football Club where he was spotted by Strike Rovers while doing his Form 3 (Grade 10).
â€œI never took long at Bank of Zambia, I was spotted by Strike Rovers,â€ Cheni, who joined the Refined Oil Products outfit in 1982 when premiership football was introduced, said.
He played seven games in the reserves and was elevated to the senior team, where his career peaked.
At the star-studded Rovers, which had several household names in local soccer, Cheni played in defence with the likes of Peter Chikwempa, Ronald Mumba, Lasso Laimoni, Tom Kunda and David Thole to provide cover to goalkeeper Morgan Chondoka.
Cheni was inspired by Thole who helped him take his game to the next level.
During Cheniâ€™s time, Roversâ€™ other big name players were Brian Zulu, Silas Siame, Isaac Khondowe, Davies Mwelwa, aka Zimbabwe, Bestone Chambeshi, Manasse Jumbe, Smart Ngâ€™andwe and Oliver Mbanza.
â€œIt was not easy to displace senior players but I had the vision to play in the A team,â€ Cheni said of the squad which was coached by Ernest Mwansa.
After three years at Rovers, Cheni thought it was time to move on and when Ndola United approached him he did not hesitate to seize the opportunity.
He needed not to think twice about joining United because the Ndola City Council offered him a job despite Rovers putting in â€˜spannersâ€™.
â€œRovers offered me more money but what I was offered here [council] was too much,â€ Cheni said during an interview at Ndola Civic Centre.
At a time when national soccer team playersâ€™ transfer fee was pegged at K7,000, the K20,000 United paid for his move was too much.
â€œIt was a lot of money then,â€ Cheni, who was given his 10 percent said.
During the nine years he was with United, the team, now on a free-fall to Division Two, enjoyed near success.
With the likes of Mustapha Kalizamani, Simon Nkhuwa, Chris Chiwala, Thomas Mwale, Vincent Mwanza, Sunday Sichilima, Tenant Chembo, Ben Mwansa, Felix Nsama, Harrison Bwalya, Best Banda, Rodgers Lupiya, Peter Chiara and Francis Chindima, Cheni was a member of the squad which brought joy to Ndola.
In cup competitions, they reached the quarter-finals several times and qualified for the semi-finals of the Independence Cup which they lost to Nchanga Rangers on post-match penalties at Kitweâ€™s Arthur Davies Stadium after a 2-2 draw in regulation time.
In 1986, United wrote a piece of history when they finished third in the league and should have represented Zambia in the CAF Cup but for the councilâ€™s financial malaise.
His worst season at United was in 1988 when they were almost relegated but survived the chop with only four games to go, winning their last match against Mufulira Wanderers whom they surprisingly beat 3-2 at Dag Hammarskjoeld Stadium.
Unitedâ€™s woes started to show after Cheniâ€™s retirement, and after long battles against relegation, they succumbed in 1996.
The council roped him in as team manager in 1997 and he worked with his former teammate Venter Chikolwa who was the senior coach.
They brought back the team to the Super Division in 1998 but management decided to bring in Jedrick Lundwe as technical manager.
Cheni was surprisingly sidelined two days ahead of their season-opening encounter against Kabwe Warriors.
They played for their departing manager by beating Warriors 2-1 with Francis Litana scoring the winner.
But after a season, the team went back to Division One once again, forcing management to bring back Cheni as assistant coach to Chikolwa in 1999.
However, Cheni no longer found club management appealing and resigned to become a referee after being encouraged by Levy Simutowe.
He started by handling amateur teams then graduated to Division Three.
When he sat for examinations to be upgraded, he got a distinction (87 percent), which entitled him to start handling Division One games.
But he has not been active as a referee because he has not been affiliating owing to him being occupied with work at church.
â€œThe bishop at the current church appointed me as a deacon to gain experience in the things of God. Last year, I was ordained as a full deacon and anointed on September 1 last year in the marriage ministry,â€ Cheni said.
In 2012, he was gazetted as registrar of marriages and has since then been solemnizing marriages in the council chamber.
The man, who is now senior human resources officer (currently acting as chief human resources manager), joined the councilâ€™s public health department as a junior clerical officer on March 14 1985.
He was promoted to registry supervisor in the same department in 1992 and became assistant administrative officer a year later, then became administrative officer in 1996.
In August of 2001, he was promoted to senior administrative officer under public health department and assumed the position of senior human resources officer in 2010.
In March this year, he was appointed acting chief human resources manager after the incumbent was elevated as Mumbwa council secretary.
Cheni, who has studied industrial relations and trade-unionism studies as well as systems approach to human resource management, is currently pursuing a diploma in human resource management with Preston University in the United Kingdom. He is also an associate member of the Zambia Institute of Human Resource Management.
Cheni, who is married to Brenda Kangâ€™ombe, has six children â€“ Mumba, Shalom, Niza, Lisa, Faith and Zoe.
The couple also fostered Esther Mwewa, an orphan they picked from Kitwe as a maid but turned her into their child after hearing her story.
Esther has since completed Grade 12 and is working for Pick N Pay in Kitwe.
By Benedict Tembo