SI Vault
Triumph on Sacred Ground
Leigh Montville
October 18, 1993
After the Zambian soccer team perished in a plane crash, a new team rose to bring hope to a troubled nation
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 18, 1993

Triumph On Sacred Ground

After the Zambian soccer team perished in a plane crash, a new team rose to bring hope to a troubled nation

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The other continuing stories from the disaster have not been so nice. The words between the Zambian government and the Gabonese government become more harsh with each exchange. The fuselage continues to sit at the bottom of the ocean, and there still is no explanation of what happened. A problem has also arrived for the widows and children of the victims. Many of them have been disowned by their former in-laws, wrangles erupting over property and the cash settlements that have arrived for survivors.

"It is an African concept of family," Debby Mankinka's widow, Doreen, says. "A wife is not considered part of her husband's family. Some terrible things have happened. Wives have been thrown out of their homes. In-laws have claimed that the wives never were married to their sons. My own in-laws came to my house the day of the funeral—the day of the funeral!—and took everything. The television. The stereo. They unscrewed the light bulbs from the ceiling. They took the picture hooks from the walls. What could I do? The money we received was supposed to buy food and clothing for our children, but instead we have had to spend it to replace household goods that were taken. They took the beds. We have lawyers now, working on all of this."

"My husband had two sons when I married him," Peggy Mwape says. "They were three years old and one. I raised those children as my own. The oldest now is 23. All those years, I raised those children. I see my in-laws now and they will not even offer me a cup of tea. It is all very sad."

There have been no psychiatrists involved, no grief counselors to help with pain. The wives have even been discouraged from visiting the graves with their children. It is not their place. Everyone must move forward. The national psychiatrist, the national grief counselor, has seemingly been this new soccer team as much as anyone or anything.

"Oh, how am I supposed to watch soccer?" Mankinka says. "I watched soccer because my husband played. I watched him. Who am I supposed to watch now? For me, soccer died on that airplane. I hope this new team does well, but for me...."

The newspapers follow all of the stories, but the soccer team draws some of the biggest headlines. No Zambian team has ever come so close. One more point. Only a tie in Casablanca. The finals in America. Is that too much to ask? Every practice is ringed by spectators. Every subtlety is discussed. Kalusha is cheered if he walks down a street.

"We'll go there and do our best," he says. "Already it has been so much better than I thought it would be. We may not be so technically advanced, but we play this game from the heart."

"I have seen better teams, perhaps," Mwila says, "but never a team with this determination."

You visit the graves one more time on the day you leave Zambia. You travel to the site with Kalusha in a Third World taxi, a battered Datsun with a cracked windshield and a transmission that grinds and whines through every gear change, the sounds of metal rubbing directly upon metal. You pass the open markets of Lusaka, racks and racks of secondhand clothes. You pass the trucks filled with workers, maybe 50 men packed into the open end, everyone standing, pressed together. You pass the women sitting at the side of the road, a display of maybe six oranges or five bags of maize in front of them for sale. You pass the children, all the children, children wandering everywhere, packs of barefoot children from the imagination of Dickens, drawn here in the black ink of a different continent.

You walk with Kalusha among the 30 mounds of earth. He, too, reads the messages that have been written next to the faded pictures, the pictures of his teammates and friends. He, too, is quiet and reflective. What is he thinking? How many conflicting feelings must run through him? The problem remains. How to describe all of this? Africa. Poverty. Death. Hope. Soccer.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7