Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda and other people who spoke at former Football Association of Zambia and Lonrho Zambia chairperson, Tom Mtine’s 90th birthday party were brilliant, offering what can be summed up as graphic exploration of the twists and turns of this legend’s illustrious life.
Chikwanda, who was the guest of honour, set the tone when he took to the podium, aptly describing Mtine as a ‘living legend’ who had kept a low profile despite his many achievements.
The Finance Minister, like veteran lawyer Dr Julius Sakala (SC), Ndola magnate Dr Rajan Mahtani, Mr H. Gatchell, formerly of Lonrho (who spoke for the business community), Paramount Chief Mpezeni of the Ngoni, whose speech was read for him by Chief Madzimawe, and former FAZ president Teddy Mulonga, who could not attend in person due to a bereavement in the family, all paid glowing tribute to Mtine for his immense contribution to the country and its people regardless of tribe, political party affiliation or status in the society.
My old friend and veteran journalist Terence Musuku had told me a few weeks previously that ‘if you were to look for people who can support you on any journalism-related project, ‘Alexander Chikwanda should be one of them because I know him as one of the best writers in this country.’
And true to Musuku’s estimation, Mr Chikwanda, a son of a chief, lived up to his billing when he broke the silence at his traditional cousin’s birthday reception, saying Mtine ‘is a man of many commendable accomplishments and indisputable honour, making him an embodiment of all positive attributes.
“What is so remarkable about Mr Mtine is that in the various important positions he has served – whether as a civic leader, promoter, practical supporter and administrator of sport or captain of industry – he has served with rare distinction and fettered dedication.”
And he went on: ‘Despite his outstanding accomplishments and contributions Mr Mtine (unlike some self-centred egoists), has shunned the limelight and had not sought accolades’ even though he was held in high esteem beyond Zambia’s borders’.
In a society where people placed maximum premium on prominence, it was important for people to learn lessons from Mr Mtine’s style, Mr Chikwanda admonished, adding that ‘Mtine’s life has been shrouded in a true human fellowship, which he has distinctly symbolised and epitomised – a legacy we should all strive to achieve.’
For his part Dr Mahtani, in a well-researched address in which he liberally quoted American abolitionist and former US president Abraham Lincoln, recalled how his late father and Mr Mtine teamed up and fought to end apartheid-style racism practised by their white colleagues at the Ndola Municipal Council soon after Zambia attainted independence from Britain in 1964.
Dr Mahtani, who was accompanied by his 92-year-old mother, who flew into Zambia from the United Kingdom (UK) just to attend an old family friend’s birthday celebrations, praised Mr Mtine’s humility and wise counsel.
Another prominent Ndola resident who had worked closely with him since the early 1960s, Dr Julius Sakala disclosed that to become the first African town clerk, it took Mr Mtine’s parental intervention and persuasion for him to reverse his decision to resign from the Ndola Municipal Council a few months upon his return from London where he had obtained a law degree at the Inner Temple.
Despite being appointed to a senior post, he was given a house in Kabushi Township while his European junior officers were allocated modern council houses in Kansenji (Kansenshi) and Itawa suburbs.
Dr Sakala also worked closely with Mr Mtine in the sport administrative circles especially in FAZ.
As for me, Mr Mtine’s birthday party afforded me an opportunity to meet with people I had not met for a long time. One of them was Mr Michael Milner, a former National Football League (NFL) and FAZ official from Chingola.
Immediately I saw him my first inclination was to find out how his brother, former Home Affairs Minister in Zambia’s first Cabinet, Aaron Milner was. Is he alive? I wanted to know.
‘Yes, he is alive; he no longer lives in Zambia. He has since moved to Zimbabwe. But he does come back to Zambia from time to time. However, he does not come as far as the Copperbelt, he comes mainly to Lusaka,’ he said with a little smile on his face. Wonderful, I said.
How about Jimmy Fleming, where is he? Fleming was at some stage Milner’s boss at both Nchanga Rangers FC and on the NFL executive committee in the early 1970s and 80s.
‘Oh, Jimmy Fleming died in Johannesburg in 1997; he had been unwell for a long time. He had decided to settle in South Africa upon leaving Zambia some years ago. I was with him at most of the football matches in 1996 when South Africa hosted and won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON),’ Milner recalled with a distant look on his face.
Mr Fleming was immensely popular in Chingola partly because he was probably the first European business executive to open up a big shop in a predominantly African township near Gabbitas Stadium, the home ground of the famous ‘Brave’ Rangers – a team that featured skillful players like the late goalkeeper and former Director of Sport Musa Kasonka (my former headmaster) and Wilfred ‘Cocoa bin’ Sambie, formerly of Chingola 11 Wisemen.
I had also expected to see former Kabwe Warriors officials like Wilfred Wonani and Eliya Mwanza at the party. But Milner told me, ‘Wonani passed away some few years back while Mwanza died a long long time ago. Very sad indeed…,’ Milner said looking down and shaking his head as we stood in a queue, waiting to greet/congratulate the man-of-moment Tom Mtine; as he sat next to his guest of honour Chikwanda and grinning from ear-to-ear.
Earlier I had spotted former national soccer team captain Dickson Makwaza of the then legendary cup fighters Mufulira Wanderers, a man I have known since my youth days in the 1960s. We had last met in Lobatse, a town some 70km south of Gaborone, the Botswana capital city, a year after the entire Zambian national squad perished in that horrific plane crash off the coast of Gabon in April, 1993.
Makwaza was at the time in the company of his former boss at both club and national team levels, Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndhlovu (late). Interestingly, Makwaza and Ndhlovu were both employed in Lobatse as coaches of the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) Football Club and Lobatse Extension Gunners FC, respectively.
As indicated above my last meeting with the two soccer maestros in Botswana happened to be at the BMC clubhouse at Lobatse where they had invited me for a drink with BMC chief executive officer, the late Dr Martin Mmanathoko. So I was excited to meet Makwaza in Ndola after such a long time.
Looking fit and smartly dressed in a black suit, Makwaza reminded me of the role he played as assistant national team coach to ‘Zoom’ Ndhlovu in 1988 when Zambia humbled Italy 4-0 during the Seoul Olympic Games in South Korea.
We were all there – Dennis Liwewe (late), James Mwambazi (late), Ponga Liwewe and now FAZ president Kalusha Bwalya, who scored a hat-trick in that memorable encounter against the “indomitable’ Italians in the Kwangju City stadium.
Bwalya survived the Gabon disaster simply because he was playing in Europe at the time and had made arrangements to fly directly to West Africa to join the rest of the squad for Zambia’s US-1994 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Senegal in Dakar, the Senegalese capital.
Meanwhile, I asked Makwaza about the whereabouts of Freddie Mwila, the former national team player and coach who had also worked in Botswana as an expatriate trainer of Gaborone-based Township Rollers FC, a Mobile Premier League side.
He said he had expected the former Atlanta Chiefs and Aston Villa star to be at Mr Mtine’s 90th birthday celebrations, but was unsure as to what must have happened to him.
‘I have not seen him yet but he should be here somewhere….but he is okay, Freddie is still around… in Lusaka that is where he lives these days,’ Makwaza said of his former national team mate who used to feature for the ‘Red Devils’, Rhokana United(Nkana) in his heyday.
And as I sat next to former Local Government permanent secretary and ex-Ndola City Council City Treasurer and tribal cousin Stanford Mschili, his wife Jane, and Ndola business executive Dimas Chanda of Plastic Solutions Limited whom I had not met in the last 30 or more years, I could not help but admire the role Mr Mtine has played in nation-building.
Mtine, in the spirit of ‘One Zambia One Nation’ had single-handedly brought people of all races and religious backgrounds and traditional leaders together to mark his 90th birthday at his Lupili Drive home in Northrise.
What a man. Indeed, as his eldest son Hastings asserted in his first-class oration, what can you say about such a man, such a father, such a civic leader? Just what can one say about such a living legend?
Mtine’s contributions and his practical philanthropy will continue to reverberate across Zambia and beyond. Well done ‘Big Man’. May God bless you and keep you.
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