By WYNEGOOD MALUNGA –
GROWING up as kids, we heard great stories about Tom Mtine and we all wanted to be as rich and influential as he was, according to what we were told.
News was that he was the richest Zambian and one of the richest in Africa.
We were told his house was huge and he had many people working there, including a white British butler- wearing a black suit, white shirt, bow-tie and all, not forgetting a chauffeur for his stretch limousine.
If he needed service, he simply rang a bell, we were told.
For us, Thomas Dickson Madandaulo Mtine was the “man to be” in life.
Decades later, I was able to sieve all the stories that had been told about him and cast out the myths when I had the opportunity of meeting him and our relationship grew to that of father and son.
It was then that I learned of a tough, intelligent and hardworking businessman but also a humble, friendly and very generous man.
My first contact with Tom Mtine was during the early 1980s when I lived in Ndola. Colgate-Palmolive was heavily involved in all kinds of sports at that time but the company was not yet into top flight football sponsorship.
It was prominent Ndola lawyer Julius Sakala who introduced me to Mtine in Ndola at a football match we were watching.
I had known Julius Sakala much earlier because we played management football, also known as “madala’s football”, every weekend.
Meeting the man I had been hearing about as a kid and now there talking with him was one exciting moment for me.
I never envisaged at the time that in the coming years, we would be very close.
It was when he was chairman of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) that I began to interact more with him.
On the FAZ executive was Rupiah Banda (later Zambia’s fourth president) as first vice chairman and Julius Sakala as second vice chairman.
When Colgate-Palmolive, working with public relations and advertising expert Donald Lightfoot, who was based in Harare, Zimbabwe, arranged to bring in a top English side to play against the Zambia national football team, it was with these three men that we put the tour together.
Stoke City Football Club, which came to Zambia, had been a last-minute replacement for Liverpool which had extended its off-season tour of Europe after the close of the season and would not make it to Zambia in time.
Football administration and sports in general are not easy to manage but working with the Tom Mtine-led team taught me a lot which I put into practice when Colgate Palmolive took over sponsorship of the richest football cup final in Zambia.
A few months following the Gabon air disaster which took the lives of our national team and officials, I received a call from Tom Mtine one afternoon.
Thinking it was one of those calls when we just checked on each other, I started imitating his voice, especially when he was emphasising a point.
He started laughing and said “Akulu-akulu” (that is how he called me – “big man”) and I called him “Atsogoleli” (leader).
At that time, he was chairman of the National Sports Council of Zambia.
It turned out a decision had been made by government to dismiss the FAZ executive led by Winson Gumboh and replace it with an interim executive committee.
The call from Mtine was to inform me that I had been appointed onto the new executive with other prominent Zambians such as Ernest Mate, Simataa Simataa and others.
He told me our task was to rebuild the national team and prepare it for the Africa Cup Finals, reorganise FAZ finances, work on a new constitution and organise elections to usher in a new executive.
The last task for our executive was to hold elections for a new executive and this was to take place in Kabwe.
Mtine telephoned to ask if I could pick him up with my car and drive to Kabwe
drive up to pick him up so he could use my telephone.
A month or so after the October 1991 general elections which ushered in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy led by President Fredrick Chiluba, my phone rang and on the other end was a man with a British Broadcasting Corporation English accent.
He introduced himself as Tiny Rowland, chairman of the London-based company Lonrho.
I have no idea where he got my phone number from.
He requested to speak to Tom Mtine and I asked him to call back in five minutes. I jumped into my car and rushed up the road to collect Mtine and on the way back, he asked himself, “What does he want from me? He has never spoken to me for ages so why should he be calling me now?”
I told him, “Atsogoleli, he knows government has changed and he wants you back so that you can get him access to the MMD government”.
On the phone, the two spoke for a long while with Mtine not mincing words on how Rowland had treated him and that the new government was not amused by reports that he supported former President Kaunda and had readied a plane to evacuate him and his family.
Rowland denied those allegations including one where he was said to have been harbouring Dr M.A. Ranganathan, an associate of the former president Kaunda. Rowland then asked Mtine to fly to London and meet with him there after he, Rowland, returned from Poland.
After the call, I looked at Mtine and said, “I told you, Atsogoleli. He wants you back”.
He replied, “He won’t have it easy with Fred,” in reference to President Chiluba).
From January 1991, I was working at Colgate-Palmolive in Alexandria, Egypt, and it was not until I returned to Zambia that I found out while reading old newspapers to catch up on events at home that Tom Mtine was back at the top in Lonrho.
I quickly walked up to his home to congratulate him and catch up on how it had all gone.
Many are today saddened by the passing of a great servant of Zambia, Tom Mtine. Kelly Chubili commented on his Facebook timeline: “He was a colossus in many facets of our lives as a country”.
Former FAZ executive member, mayor of Kitwe and deputy minister Luxon Kazabu expressed how sad and devastated he was at the passing of a man he considered as a parent.
Kazabu worked under Mtine in one of the Lonrho companies as well as in sports administration.
In his tribute, Chito Chitundu wrote: “These are the men who fought against racial segregation in football. Tom Mtine brought the much needed professional organisation to football in Zambia.”
Tom Mtine was good to me, very good to me.
He was a Muslim and I am a Christian, but religion was never a barrier.
On many Zambia Airways early morning flights to Lusaka, we often would find ourselves sitting next to each other, him reading the Holy Quran and praying silently and me drinking a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper.
He was there for me and my family on several occasions when in desperate need and never asked for anything in return.
My late sister once worked as his personal assistant and she testified on the kindness and generosity of the man.
Yes, he had a huge house with a swimming pool and tennis court but there were no English butlers or show of an ostentatious lifestyle.
He lived a simple life borne from hard work and discipline.
One of his sons, Andre, once told me, “You know, my father really likes you”.
Rest in power, Atsogoleli