Gabon disaster burial site begs for care
Published On April 13, 2015 » 7012 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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•THE neglected Gabon Disaster burial site in Lusaka.

•THE neglected Gabon Disaster burial site in Lusaka.

By CHRISTINE MWAABA –

They died  in 1993 without ever achieving the dream of winning the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) football championship, a dream that was finally realised  three years ago.
It is more than two decades since that fateful day on April 28, the moment  that broke all the hearts of Zambians after news of the national team perishing  swept through the  whole country.
The players, coaches, officials and crew members perished off the coast of Gabon en route to a  qualifier  match against Senegal in Dakar.
As the memorial annivesary approaches, memories are still fresh and yet where the remains of the team lies does not appear so.
Unlike the lush National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka  that has been named after them, which  is located  just a stone’s throw from the burial site,  the Gabon air disaster victims  lie entombed on a forgotten patch of ground overgrown by grass and weeds.
It raises questions as to why the graveyard for the country’s fallen heroes which is right behind the new stadium has  not been given the maintenance it deserves especially during the rainy season.
The Gabon disaster victims were buried just outside Independence stadium, at a special monument called Heroes’ Acre.
The tragedy cut down a generation of extremely talented players, sending a whole nation into mourning.
However, the Heroes Acre today has not been  kempt as it should have been. It looks neglected  to a point were one cannot tell if it is an ordinary graveyard or indeed a resting place for the heroes who
raised the bar in terms of Zambian football.
In 2013, there was so much debate on what name the newly built stadium adjacent to Independence stadium should have been named until a consensus was reached that it should be named after the 1993 Gabon air disaster victims.
Seeing that the ultra-modern stadium is of high standard, it means that the Heroes Acre after which it was named must be of equal standard and properly maintained just like the stadium that has been named after it.
But this has not been the case; the graveyard does not have a good scenery as compared to other monuments reminiscent of the freedom statue.
In addition, one cannot talk about the National Heroes Stadium without talking about the Gabon air disaster victims.
In fact, if properly maintained, the graveyard can attract tourists who may be interested to learn more about Zambia’s soccer prowess.
This entails that the graveyard must be of high standard to create an enabling environment  for those that want to carry out research for educational or reference purposes or anyone wishing to visit Heroes’ Acre.
It is imperative that those responsible for the maintenance of the stadium to also ensure that the graveyard is looked after as well so that people can take interest in remembering the heroes that have been put to rest at the burial site.
Mwansa Musonda, a resident of Matero Township who lives just opposite the burial site expressed his concern at the way the graveyard is kept.
He says it is sad that for a while now the burial site has only been cleaned when it is time for the heroes’memorial which falls on  April 28 annually. No one cleans the site for the rest of the year. He
said the site is prone to vandalism.
He further narrates that in some instances prostitutes who get stranded in the night find the burial site a convenient place to spend the nights in because assailants fear to approach the site at night,
He said the prostitutes spend the night sleeping in between the tombstones where they cannot easily be seen or attacked. They leave the burial site in the early in the morning to return to their homes.
Mr Mwansa says  the grave yard is not fully fenced on one of the sides where some drainage construction is taking place. It is left open hence people, especially the mentally sick, enter the site without any restrictions.
“There is no fence to secure the place. It is open for anyone to enter and do whatever they feel like, even answering the call of nature from there.
In some instances, people come to sleep here during the day,” he says.
A visit by this author early in March found that the graveyard was not cleaned. There was overgrown grass and weeds around the tombstones.
Care takers found at the site explained that the cleaning of the burial ground would commence in a few weeks before the memorial service.
Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) executive committee member Lee Kawano in an interview recently says the association is not in charge of maintaining the graveyard because it is Government property.
“It is a Government property and it is not in our jurisdiction to take care of the monument.
The best people to know about the maintenance of the site is the Government, or maybe the ministry of Youth and Sports, not FAZ,” he said.
It could be true that FAZ has no jurisdiction over who cleans the graveyard. However, the association seems unconcerned about the burial site to the point that it does nothing to assist in the upkeep of the graves.
The fact remains that the people who died were footballers and hence the importance of stake holders like FAZ in assisting to ensure that the burial ground is well taken care of for the sake of not only he families and he football fraternity but the whole of Zambia.
This is the team that died trying to raise the Zambian flag high. And hence it befits the fallen heroes that their final resting place must be maintained regularly, and probably landscaped so that people can be visiting the place.
They fought for the country’s honour. It is Government’s obligation to insure that the burial site is accorded a good panorama that will surely recognise the effort and sacrifices they put in taking Zambian football to higher heights.
That fateful night has long remained in the memories not only of their families but those of the entire population of Zambia.
Youth and Sports Deputy Minister Ronard Chitotela said, “This year the Government has engaged the Lusaka City Council to lend a hand in the maintenance of the site regularly. The ministry will ensure that we give our national heroes’ a good resting place.
This is why as Government, we will make certain that the place is well maintained not only for the memorial service.,” Mr Chitotela says.
Mr Chitotela says the ministry is mandated to take the responsibility of cleaning the Heroes Acre  as it is of high significant to Zambia as well as the families of the victims.
The 18 players on the fateful military aircraft that crashed were Wisdom ‘Wizzy’ Chansa, Eston ‘Yellowman’ Mulenga, Richard Mwanza, Derby Mankinka and Timothy ‘Teacher’ Mwitwa.
Others were John Soko, Whiteson Changwe, Efford David Chabala, Samuel Chomba, Kelvin ‘Malaza’ Mutale, Godfrey Kangwa and Moses Masuwa. Patrick ‘Bomber’ Banda, Numba Mwila, Winter Mumba, Kenani Simambe, Robert Watyakeni and Moses Chikwalakwala were also on the doomed flight.
They included coaches Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu and his assistant coach Alex ‘Computer’ Chola.
Soccer administrator, Michael Mwape, his committee member Wilson Sakala, Team physician Dr Wilson Mtonga, ministry of Sport officials Nelson Zimba, journalist Joseph Salimu, were also aboard the DHC-5D Buffalo plane.
Members of the crew serving the Zambia Air Force (ZAF) on the flight were Colonel Fenton Mhone, Lt. Col. Victor Mubanga, Col. James Sachika and Warrant Officer E. Nambote.
That team was one of the finest collections of talent Zambia had ever assembled. With the exception of Kalusha Bwalya, now FAZ president, and Charles Musonda, both based in Europe at the time. Zambia had lost some of its best footballers to have ever graced the local stage.
The KK 11, as they were called after first Republican president Kenneth Kaunda, finished third at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1990, and had recorded first- and third-placed finishes at the two previous  Confederation of East and Central African Football Association (CECAFA) Cups.
Majority of the players in the team featured for local giants such as Nkana and Power Dynamos.
During that period, Nkana reached the final of the African Champions’ Cup – a precursor to the CAF Champions League – in 1990, while Power Dynamos won the African Cup Winners’ Cup.
There was hope Zambia was on the verge of making a maiden appearance at the World Cup in 1994 .
That team had won their first-phase pool to move into the final round of African Zone qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.
It was never to be.
The dream ended on the shores of Libreville with only their remains ferried back to Lusaka for burial.
While Zambians still crave for a first World Cup appearance, Libreville became a fitting scene recently.
It may not have brought back the 1993 heroes but it produced the 2012 heroes when it moved from the scene of Zambia’s greatest football tragedy to the scene of greatest triumph as Chipolopolo hoisted the
Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in history.
That conquest was, naturally, dedicated to the 30 people who lost their lives on  April 28 1993 – a disaster that spurned a  tear-jerking tale.
Today, the recently built  National Heroes Stadium which is a multi-purpose sports facility,  is currently used mostly for football matches and hosts some of the home games of the Zambia national football team.
It sits 50,000 spectators.

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