ALEX NJOVU, Lusaka
THEY say hope is the last thing you should lose. But I think we tested it to its extreme limits last weekend.
I should have spent Saturday in Windhoek watching the Africa Cup qualifier match between hosts Namibia and the Chipolopolo. However, I spent the whole Saturday in Katima Mulilo, which is about 938 kilometres away from Windhoek, the Namibian capital.
“Are you sure you’re going to watch the game today, If you are flying to Windhoek, then you will manage, but if you are going by road, forget it. You will only be in Windhoek around 21:00 hours and that is if you will not make any stoppages on the way,” a Namibian immigration officer told us at Katima Mulilo Border Post.
That was around 07:00 hours on Saturday.
I was in a group of soccer fans that had travelled from Lusaka hoping to watch the Zambia game in Windhoek. But we ended up watching the game from some non-descript places in Sesheke.
We had travelled the whole night from Lusaka on Friday hoping to make it to Windhoek before the match. But it turned out to be a long stretch.
The two Marcopolo buses, which had soccer fans from as far as Mufulira, left Lusaka around midday on Friday.
We were made to believe that an arrangement had been made in advance to allow us to cross the border in Namibia upon arrival regardless of the time. But when we arrived at Katima Mulilo Border on the Zambian side around 02:00 hours, a Zambian police officer told us that we cannot cross into Namibia as it was dangerous and late and assured us that he would do everything within his powers to help us proceed with our journey around 04:00 hours.
Shockingly, when it was 04:00 hours, the officer was nowhere to be seen. Instead, one of his friends who was evidently drunk, was busy chasing after one of the Chipolopolo female fans in our group.
With time running out, the fans took their frustration on border officers whom they accused of poor work culture. They were upset that the officers on the Zambian side were taking their time to clear them and openly warned them that they would all be transferred to other parts of the country more remote than Sesheke. The officers, however, refused to be intimidated and demanded for respect and cautioned the fans against abusing them. Some officers protested by storming out of the building before the group leaders pleaded with them to forgive the truant fans.
After the Namibian immigration officer told us that there was no way we were going to make it to Windhoek by 16:00 hours, for the match, we were demoralised. But not our delegation leaders; they refused to entirely give up.
The delegation leaders addressed us, urged us to stay calm as they worked on plan B, which was to fly the whole group — 83 of us — to Windhoek.
They even obtained the quotation from Air Namibian and an officer from the airline came and addressed us. The cost of flying us to Namibia was US$ 13,000.
“We’re ready to dispatch two planes to Katima Mulilo to come and pick everyone to Windhoek if only you can make payment or assure us when you will make the payment,” the officer, who identified himself as Vengi said.
“Flying to Windhoek will take you about an hour and half, you will be able to watch the game and the players need your support if you are to get something from this game because without you guys (supporters), you will lose.”
In two Marcopolo buses, we drove to Katima Mulilo Airport in readiness for our flight to Windhoek. That was about three hours before the kick-off of the match which started at 16:00 hours.
On the way, the Zambian mentality or altitude was clearly demonstrated by some fans who started throwing trash through the window as the buses were moving.
In Namibia, drivers and passengers who throw litter from windows pay a fine of K80. The authorities did not see us but one of our drivers took a swipe at the fans and threatened to physically manhandle anyone throwing litter outside.
About 40 minutes of waiting at the airport, with many people tired and sleepy, we received another instruction that we must driver to Kasane Airport in Botswana where the two planes would land freely without any problems.
We immediately started off for Botswana, about an hour 30 minutes’ drive. But after driving for less than five minutes, another instruction came through that we must wait in the central business district (CBD) of Katima Mulilo, as we were going to fly out of the local airport without problems.
As we were moving from one place to another, some fans lost patience and started pointing accusing fingers at one another while others called for prayers so that God could intervene. But their calls for prayers were quickly dismissed by others who said there was no need to pray with about an hour remaining before kick-off.
In fact, I was among those that called for prayers but one gentleman quickly silenced me saying people in war-torn countries like Syria and those with serious conditions needed God’s intervention than us. To him, our situation needed proper planning and preparation and that we should have started our trip on Thursday and not Friday.
Tempers flared up with others threatening to physically man-handle individuals that were speaking ill of the organisers of the trip. The situation became worse after someone reported that our issue was on social media and that people had blown the whole story out of proportion.
While this was happening, some fans were helping themselves to Windhoek beer. The rate at which they were drinking could have easily emptied the shops of the product. The locals demanded the shops to close.
“This is just Saturday and it is 14:00 hours. We don’t know when we’re going to receive another consignment. What are we going to drink on Sunday and Monday if we allow Zambians to buy all our beers? Please close these shops or else we’re going to burn them and riot,” a group of young Namibians told the shop owners.
Katima Mulilo, which means quenches fire in Silozi, is indeed a town on fire as you can see young people freely smoking the herb without any fear of the law.
But the residents of this town are friendly. Although Silozi, is the main language, some local people are able to speak Nyanja and Bemba. Zambians from Sesheke cross daily into Katima Mulilo for business.
The town is clean and has modern infrastructure with warnings on bill boards to motorists to protect wild animals as they contribute positively to the well-being of the economy.
Around 15:00 hours, a meeting was called where we were informed that our trip to Windhoek had fallen through. We immediately left for the border but some young fans took their frustration on immigration officers on the Zambian border whom they accused of being responsible for their predicament.
They openly cursed and hurled insults on the officers for their alleged poor work altitude. They warned that Lusaka Province Minister Bowman Lusambo would soon visit to deal with them.
“We arrived at the border from Lusaka at 02:00 hours but instead of allowing us to cross into Namibia you stopped us to wait until 04:00 hours but when it was 04:00 hours, you all disappeared and only resurfaced after 06:00 hours. You will see. We will report you to Honourable Bowman Lusambo,” one of the fans said.
The officers took offence and briefly stopped attending to the whole group.
Instead of watching the game live at Sam Nujoma Stadium in Windhoek, we only managed to watch the second half in pubs and bars in Sesheke town and on phones.
It is a lesson on how not to travel.
ALEX NJOVU, Lusaka