HOW time can fly indeed! The year 2017 marks 24 years since the horrific Gabon air disaster in which Zambia lost 30 people in a plane crash on April 28, 1993 off the shores of the Gabonese capital Libreville.
The de Havilland Canada DHC-5D Buffalo plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, about 500 metres offshore from Libreville, Gabon, carrying 18 Zambia national team players, two coaches, a five-man Zambia Air Force crew – Phenton Mhone (head pilot), co-pilot James Sachika, another co-pilot Victor Mubanga, flight planner Edward Nambote and Thomson Sakala, a steward, and then Football Association of Zambia (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 a journalists, Joseph Salim, en route to Senegal to fulfil a 1994 USA World Cup Soccer qualifier.
The players were Efford Chabala, John Soko, Whiteson Changwe, Robert Watiyakeni, Eston Mulenga, Derby Makinka, Moses Chikwalakwala, Godfrey Kangwa, Kelvin Mutale, Wisdom Chansa and Timothy Mwitwa.
Others were Richard Mwanza, Winter Mumba, Samuel Chomba, Moses Masuwa, Patrick Banda, Kenani Simambe, Numba Mwila, and coaches Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu and Alex Chola.
It may have been 24 years today since that horrendous plane crash occurred, but it’s the manner in which the event is commemorated that needs revisiting or having some school of thought.
Our memories of these heroes still live in us, in every Zambian soccer family, because they brought pride to this great nation.
Despite time flying, several aspects require a re-look at the way the event should be celebrated.
The routine laying of wreaths on the graves by the respective families every April 28, year in, year out should be a thing of the past because in all logic, nothing comes out of it. it simply brings about sad memories. The sombre atmosphere that characterises the Heroes’ Square should be punctuated by more heart-warming celebrations.
To start with, a special match of the contemporaries of the players who perished in the Gabon air disaster should be organised every year to raise funds for the surviving widows and children. As they say, money is never enough as long as life goes on.
For instance, a match could be played between Copperbelt and Midlands select sides and all gate- takings shared equally among the families.
Organising of special events and matches elsewhere as been the order of the day by Manchester United who lost players and others in the Munich air disaster of 1958 and more recently, the Chapecoence case in Brazil, is a living example of the foregoing.
Second, when the victims’ relatives were given compensation at various times then, it was done in dribs and drabs and, as such, the money was not properly put to good use. Over and above, the administrators then (though not everyone was a culprit) and other relatives, tended to claim a share of one kind or the other.
In the end, the money paid out to the widows and children, some of whom were too small at the time, didn’t serve the very purpose for which it should have been utilised. Some schoolchildren were negatively affected and others fell out of school altogether as a result of mismanagement of funds.
Third, the Football Association of Zambia, in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport, should be seen to be pro-active by organising the corporate world to gang up and raise funds to donate to the surviving families every time the Gabon air disaster commemoration takes place.
After all, the event happens once in 365 days. That is what true corporate social responsibility is all about; deeds and not words.
Lastly, when the Heroes Square was constructed, it was done in a hurry. Now that architecture has advanced, the place needs to be modernised to give it that touch of elegance and architectural beauty.
If anything, the place should be declared a national heritage site by the National Heritage Conservation Commission in the same bracket as the Victoria Falls, Lusaka Museum, Livingstone Museum, Mutomoto Museum, Kapisha Hot springs, among others.
The year 2018 will mark 25 years of the Gabon air disaster. This will be the silver jubilee and this period anywhere in the world is savoured with relish, be it one’s birthday, a marriage anniversary or any other event. Naturally, what has been suggested here should be put into practice as a starting point of celebrating the event.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.