Zambia Sporting Score: A Period of Hits and Misses
by Moses Sayela Walubita
Bloomington, IN: iUniverse 2011
Robert G. Rodriguez
Texas A&M University – Commerce
In February 2012, Zambia made sports headlines around the world by winning the African Cup of Nations. The squad was a sentimental winner because they dedicated the soccer trophy to the Zambian national soccer team that was tragically lost in a 1993 airplane crash. Then, in December 2012, the former Zambian goal-scoring machine, Godfrey Chitalu, also the fallen coach of the 1993 national team, surprisingly reemerged in international sporting news. As Lionel Messi surpassed Gerd Müller’s 1972 record of goals scored in a calendar year, the Madrid-based sport’s daily As reported that the record does not belong to Messi, nor Müller, but rather to Chitalu, a Kabwe Warriors star in the Zambian league who scored 107 goals in 1972 . A black-and-white photo of Chitalu posing with a soccer ball inscribed with the words “1972 Godfrey Chitalu 107 Goals” found its way into Internet sites, newspapers, and magazines across the globe .
Zambia’s resurgence, or perhaps emergence, in the world of sports prompted IMPUMELELO to review a recently published book on Zambian sports history. Moses Sayela Walubita, a former reporter at the Zambia Daily Mail and Zambia’s press secretary at the UN (at the time of the book’s publication), took on the gargantuan task of compiling the trajectory of Zambian sports in Zambia Sporting Score: A Period of Hits and Misses. Chitalu’s image appears on the front cover along with five other prominent Zambian athletes, though he is not mentioned in the same breath as the athletes highlighted on the back cover.
The reader will immediately note that this publication is the second edition of a text published in Zambia in 1990. Thus, one would reasonably expect that the book would have been updated to reflect the sporting accomplishments of the country during the two decades since its initial publication. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Aside from the book cover, a brief “Acknowledgement to Second Edition” section, and several photographs and captions, the text remains untouched from 1990. Therein lays the book’s greatest flaw. There is scant discussion of the 1993 national soccer team and the accident that claimed their lives. While two photographs of 400 meter hurdler Samuel Matete appear in the book, the Olympic silver medal he won in 1996 (one of Zambia’s two Olympic medals to date) is not mentioned. And although three images of Zambia’s acclaimed boxer Esther Phiri, who holds four women’s world championship belts, are included in the pages of Walubita’s book, there is no discussion of her background at all. It follows that updates on the great Zambian athletes of yesteryear are also missing from this book. The case of boxing contender, Lottie Mwale, is a glaring example. Despite the fact that Mwale handed Tony Sibson, one of Britain’s best boxers of the 1970’s and 1980’s, his first professional loss, and also defeated future three-time world light heavyweight champion Marvin Johnson, Lottie’s post-1980s activities do not appear in the text. Mwale would go on to win the World Boxing Council’s International title in 1990, lost to future hall-of-fame world champion Virgil Hill, and sadly wound up dying at the age of 53 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for several years.
Despite the fact that the second edition of the Walubita’s book is only very briefly updated from the original 1990 Zambian-published text, and several glaring typographical errors appear throughout, it still contains valuable information about Zambia’s sporting past. For those who may be unacquainted with Zambian political history, it bears mentioning that the country was a protectorate of the United Kingdom and known as Northern Rhodesia until it gained independence on October 24, 1964. The inaugural president of newly-independent Zambia was Kenneth Kaunda, who espoused a form of African Socialism. Kaunda would rule the land through the guise of a one-party state – his United National Independent Party – until economic strife, international pressure, and domestic unrest led him to allow multi-party elections in 1991, in which he was ousted from office and relinquished power to his successor. Readers will quickly note references to “The Party,” and “comrades” in the text.
The structure of the book is based upon various sports practiced by Zambians. Chapters on expected sports such as soccer, athletics, and boxing predominate in terms of their detail and quality. Just as interesting, however, are short chapters on Zambian participation in lesser-renowned sports, such as bowls and various types of motor sports. Each chapter follows a similar pattern, typically describing the basic rules and structure of the sport denoted by the chapter title, then explaining when and how the sport was introduced to the country (usually in pre-independence by British ex-pats and members of the Indian Army), and finally describing the accomplishments of several noteworthy Zambian practitioners of each sport through the mid-1980s. Zambian athletes who have practiced their respective sports abroad are given particular attention. Some chapters include records of participants and match results, while others also include detailed information on the coaches and administrators of each sport. Most chapters also lament the lack of substantial Zambian accomplishments in the fifteen sports that are covered.
While most of the chapters are superficial regurgitations of sporting events and their results, there are several gems of information that appear throughout. For example, when recounting the 1974 Africa Cup of Nations final match between Zambia and Zaire, Walubita describes how runner-up Zambia was “given a standing ovation by the sympathetic crowd which included FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous and former World heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali” . Another interesting and perhaps little known tidbit is a comment about President Kaunda, who “agreed to a proposal for the construction of a nine-hole golf course within the grounds of the State House, in order to provide him with a means of relaxation from his onerous and continual responsibilities as Head of State” .
Soccer has clearly held a preeminent position among all sports in Zambian society. President Kaunda, recognizing the importance of the sport among the population, sought to capitalize upon it for political gain, with actions that ranged from personally receiving the squad, to making the national team coach a full colonel in the Zambian military . The author’s treatment of Chitalu’s goal scoring record in 1972 now has heightened importance given the former player’s recently re-gained notoriety. The record is presented as being an important accomplishment that was “surpassed only by Pele’s record 121 netted in 1961.”  Walubita’s reference to Pele’s “record” is intriguing, as newspapers around the world reported in November 2012 that Pele’s record for goals scored in a calendar year was 75, set in 1958, and was surpassed by Lionel Messi . More significantly, we learn from Walubita’s writings that despite Chitalu’s goal-scoring prowess, he was never really a regular on the national team .
Zambia’s boycott of the 1976 Olympic Games is an issue that appears in several instances within the text. The author writes that, even though Zambian athletes qualified for the Montreal Olympics, the games were “marred by the Afro-Arab led political boycott in protest against the presence in Montreal of New Zealand which was the ally of South Africa” . To clarify, the United Nations had called for a sporting embargo of South Africa because of their apartheid policies. New Zealand allowed its national rugby team, the world-renowned All Blacks, to tour South Africa in defiance of the embargo and a threat of an African Olympic boycott. In response, many nations called for New Zealand to be banned from the 1976 Olympic Games, but the International Olympic Committee refused to do so, resulting in the boycott of twenty-five African countries including Zambia.
Issues of racism and discrimination also appear throughout the text. For example, when discussing Zambian participation in cricket, Walubita explains that the sport in Zambia at the beginning of the 20th century was, “the chief recreation for the colonialists…the gradual evolution into very competitive leagues at the height of white supremacy in the then Northern Rhodesia from the fifties onward”. A second example is that of the fate of distance runner Yotham Muleya. In 1958, Muleya gained international notoriety by defeating well-known British distance runner Gordon Pirie in an official competition while running barefoot. Muleya’s victory was reported in the popular American magazine Sports Illustrated as making “a nice crack in Rhodesia’s grim racial barrier” . Muleya went on to study in the United States as a result of this notable victory, but died in a tragic car accident in 1959. At the time, Jet Magazine, an American publication designed to serve the interests of African-Americans, reported Muleya’s untimely death with a photo and a report that stated Muleya died en route to a cross-country meet along with two Americans and a white Southern Rhodesian athlete . There was no indication of foul play in the article. In Zambian Sporting Score, however, Walubita recalled Muleya’s tragic death –without any supporting evidence- as follows: “Then the hero [Muleya] went abroad and what followed was bad news. Yotham Muleya had died in a car accident, far away in the whiteman’s land. The same Yotham who had out-sprinted another whiteman exactly a year before. He must have been killed by the whiteman” .
The unsubstantiated claim surrounding Muleya’s death is one of several potentially exaggerated assertions that appear in the text. Two additional examples stem from Walubita’s chapter on boxing. The author characterized Zambian boxer Lottie Mwale as having an “even chance” of winning Zambia’s first Olympic medal . As the author points out, however, Mwale was drawn against Michael Spinks, the American boxer who would not only win the gold medal, but would also win world championships in the light heavyweight and heavyweight division as a professional. Thus, Mwale’s odds of getting past the first round of competition (much less earning a medal) were long at best, and the Zambian boycott of the 1976 Olympics ultimately rendered this a moot point. A second claim the author makes in this chapter refers to 1984 Olympic bronze medalist Keith “Spinks” Mwila (Zambia’s first Olympic medalist) as having been robbed of making it to the gold medal match. “If the judges had been fair, Mwila would have won the gold” . This is also a tenuous claim, as Mwila had lost a 5-0 decision to an Italian boxer in the semi-finals. Additionally, the gold medalist in the light flyweight division at that Olympiad was Paul Gonzales, a Mexican-American boxer who would be awarded the Val Barker trophy, presented to the best all-around boxer at each Olympics.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of the book is bringing back to life the accomplishments of many of the sporting heroes of Zambia’s past and interweaving the history of athletic competition in the land with the political situation of the time. It should be noted that Zambia was the first country to enter the Olympic Games under one flag (the Union Jack) during the opening ceremony and leaving the games under a different flag (the Zambian flag) in the closing ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games, as Zambia became a sovereign state on the 24th of October, the very day the competition ended that year .
Among the “forgotten” athletes who are resurrected in the book are Shirley Fisher and Rosalie Van Leeve, two female motor sports participants who were the first “Zambian all-woman crew ever to finish a National Rally” . Readers might also be surprised to learn that motor sports were considered a Zambian “national pastime” in the 1940’s . Another intriguing figure of the Zambian sports world is popular wrestler Fred Coates, actually a white South African who wore leopard skin shorts in the ring and who popularized and promoted international wrestling events in the Zambia’s Copperbelt region . Wrestling in Zambia was so popular that it was even profiled in a 1966 edition of the American magazine Boxing Illustrated . Additionally, David Phiri, a black Zambian international golfer who had to overcome many racist incidents, as relayed in the text, would go on to design the golf course at President Kaunda’s State House and eventually became the Bank of Zambia Governor and chairman of the Zambian Football Association .
Finally, while the book itself does not have an overall conclusion, it is clear that the author wants to emphasize the challenges facing Zambian athletes. Several chapters lament the country’s dire economic situation, which has permeated throughout its history. The embarrassment of having to withdraw as host of the 1988 African Cup of Nations because of financial constraints stands out . The lack of equipment to be able to compete in sports such as lawn tennis and the difficulty in obtaining shuttlecocks to play badminton and bowls to play bowls highlight the barriers to competing in organized sports in Zambia . The inadequate organization and deficiency of qualified coaches are additional complications for Zambian sports, particularly in certain motor sports, judo, and boxing .
In sum, if the reader seeks an overview of the historical antecedents of Zambian sports, particularly from the period of gaining independence through the mid-1980s, this text is a good place to start. However, if a potential reader is hoping to find any detailed information about Zambian sports over the last two decades or so, it is best to look elsewhere.
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