Liwewe’s Voice Will Always Echo Across Zambia, Beyond

THE death of Dennis Liwewe marks another dark chapter in the nation’s journalism profession and history of soccer commentaries, which he came to dominate for almost five decades.

I did not have a chance to work with Liwewe, but given the nature of our work, we knew each other and interacted well whenever we met.

And most people would agree with President Michael Sata’s assertion that Liwewe helped revolutionise Zambian football through his brilliant soccer commentaries.

He was a major driving force that made it possible for soccer fans to flock to football arenas like Dag Hammarskjoeld Stadium in Ndola, Independence Stadium and Woodlands Stadium in Lusaka, Nkana, Arthur Davies Stadium and Buchi Stadium in Kitwe, Shinde Stadium in Mufulira, Kafubu Stadium in Luanshya, Railways Stadium in Kabwe and his ‘home ground’ – Gabbitas Stadium in Chingola.

Stadiums were often packed to the rafters. But those who could not afford to pay entrance fee to watch a match involving their favourite teams did not have sleepless nights because they knew they would not miss a thing as Liwewe’s live radio soccer commentaries were always comprehensive and spell-binding.

It was also not unusual to see herds of children and adults alike under a tree or in a tavern all glued to the radio set, listening to Liwewe’s minute-by-minute account of the match, punctuated with huge explosions of ‘It’s a go-o-al’ Oh, what a miss the ball has gone out of touch for a throw-in it’s offside, referee has ruled goal offside that looks like Chitalu to meee yayah, yayah what a match!! what a sensational save and ‘yes they have done it again'”.

He simply kept everyone listening as his voice rippled across the nation, Africa and beyond. Inside the stadium some people would be watching a match on the field of play while at the same time listening to Liwewe’s radio commentaries.

Some would be monitoring events and contradict his broadcasts whenever he seemed to exaggerate or mixed up names of the players battling for the ball, for instance.

I once brought this observation to his attention, jokingly of course.

I think it was at the end of a Castle Cup final between Mufulira Wanderers and their arch-rivals Kabwe Warriors at Dag Hammarskjoeld Stadium in Ndola.

Dennis Liwewe, as jovial as ever, simply laughed, saying: “Mwana (my friend) when you ‘r speaking at 365 words-per-minute such mistakes can’t be ruled out”.

Indeed.

A former sports reportereditor, Dennis Liwewe had mastered the rules of the game.

As a practicing journalist I benefited from Liwewe’s commentaries.

In 1974, for instance, the Times of Zambia did not assign anyone to cover the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON final between Zambia and the then dreaded Zaire Leopards in Cairo, Egypt.

The first match ended in a 2-2 draw but because the penalty shootout rule had not been introduced by the world soccer governing body, FIFA, the match to decide the champions, had to be played the following day.

Mr Mike Pierson, the Times of Zambia managing editor, approached me in the newsroom, saying, “We can’t afford to miss this match please see if can monitor Dennis Liwewe’s radio commentaries we’r lucky ZNBC managed to send someone there”.

Despite Zambia fighting like the British ‘Desert Rats’ against the Germans in the Sahara Desert during the Second World Two (1939-45), General Mobutu’s Leopards overpowered the ‘KK’ XI 2-0 to lift the cup. Thus we were able to carry a fairly comprehensive story the next day, thanks to this highly talented man.

In his commentaries Dennis, who was adept at choosing appropriate words for a particular situation, used some military jargon like ‘last ditch effort’ to describe to the listener how the Zambians fought to outwit their formidable ‘enemy’.

He always succeeded at taking his listeners at home inside the stadium despite being thousands and thousands of kilometres away from the venue.

The last time I met Liwewe face-to-face was in South Korea when he came to my hotel room at Hotel Khaya in Seoul, the South Korean capital, during the 1988 Olympic Games.

That was before I relocated to the Games Village where all foreign journalists, including Zambia Daily Mail’s James Mwambazi, covering world’s sports extravaganza were accommodated.

Upon finding me in my room, he said: “Alfred Mulenga just what do you want in life everyone else is out there mate?”

A teetotaller himself, Liwewe was alluding to the fact that he did not expect to be still in my hotel room when most of the Zambian soccer fans, who had chartered a special Zambia Airways plane to South Korea and were staying in the same hotel, were out enjoying Korean nightlife.

Indeed, it was never a dull moment for most of the guys. But when it came to cheering skipper Kalusha Bwalya and his boys they were always on time and vociferous.

After Zambia had beaten former World Cup champions Italy 4-0 the mood inside Kwangju stadium was electric as the boys prepared to face West Germany in the third match of the Olympic tournament.

The fans were there.

And Dennis Liwewe and his son, Ponga, were also there, relaying live soccer commentaries back home to Zambia from the Far East.

The Germans seemed to have prepared well and effortlessly scored all the four goals in the first 45 minutes to lead 4-0 at half time.

But coach Samuel ‘Zoom” Ndhlovu and his assistant Dickson Makwaza changed their tactics in the second during which the Germans were constantly pinned in their own half by the goal-hungry Zambia strikers.

Reporting straight to State House, a visibly animated Liwewe, who was by then on his toes as he spoke, shouted, “Your Excellency we are shelling the German frontlines.”

This did not down well with German sports journalists in the Pressbox where James Mwambazi and I were seated.

One of the German sports reporter could not hide his anger, saying, “What the hell is he talking about? You can’t say you are shelling German lines when you are 4-0 down, crazy, crazy, crazy… .”

Yes, Liwewe here and there did exaggerate a little but that is part of the game and fans simply loved it. MHSRIP.

And Humphrey Lombe says Liwewe was an institution.

He influenced coaches and helped players to rise to stardom and trod on toes of the most powerful and commanded a large following as if he was himself the football that people enjoyed watching.

I remember travelling and being with Dennis at the 1982 and 1986 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations finals hosted by Libya and Egypt respectively.

Prior to this, I regarded Dennis as just one of those men in the sports world who played his part with soccer commentaries while I also played my own role as a sports writer under the Times of Zambia without putting much thought to his status and popularity.

It was while we were in Tripoli, Libya that we struck friendship and our bond grew to the extent that we communicated regularly by telephone.

Eventually he paid me and my wife a visit and I did the same on my subsequent visits to Lusaka.

His initial visit at Premium Plaza flat number 505 came after our return from Libya.

We had just moved into the brand new complex whose commissioning coincided with my trip. The family moved house the following day after I had left.

So, when Dennis met my spouse Sylvia who incidentally shares the same name with his wife and after the introduction, he quipped ‘ndiye mulamu uyu’ is this my in-law? Typical of Dennis, he added, ‘aaha, iwe mwaice, you made such a good choice, man! Since then, my wife and he developed a good relationship based on mutual respect.

Similarly when I visited his home off Independence Avenue he introduced me to his wife and said all the good things about me.

He took me around the house and surroundings and produced a family photograph and as per tradition he ran through the names of his children.

Even when he retired from ZCCM as director public relations between 2000 and 2001, we maintained contact.

Each time you met him he would joke about life in retirement.

He took up the mantle of going round the country giving motivational talks to retirees.

He proved to be a good role model and a strengthening pillar to those that almost ebbed away into depression and helped to rekindle them back to life. After all, there is life even retirement, he said repeatedly.

In Libya, I forged a relationship with one Libyan called Mohammed who kept a well trimmed beard and visited our hotel every morning.

To our surprise on the day of the final that pitted host Libya against Ghana, Mohammed was among photographers and was wearing the number one identification mark.

Dennis had concluded that Mohammed was no ordinary folk, no wonder he told the hotel not to charge me over my hotel bills for meals and accommodation a development that surprised Dennis.

This hotel housed all big names comprising the Confederation of African (CAF) football top brass that included the late president Ydkachnew Tessema and vice president Oyo Oyo of Ethiopia and Nigeria, respectively.

The FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was then general secretary while Brazilian magnate Joe Havelange held the presidency and all international journalists stayed at this Tripoli hotel. However, something interesting happened.

Tom Mtine who was then CAF treasurer and FAZ chairperson, General Kingsley Chinkuli, Earnest Mate, FAZ general secretary, Peter Khamisa of Malawi FA, Dennis and I spent time strategising how Mtine who had put his name forward to stand against Oyo Oyo could win the contest.

If Mtine won it would have guaranteed him a place on the FIFA executive committee representing Africa and that is how important this position was to Mtine and the incumbent Oyo Oyo.

One morning, less than 36 hours before the CAF General Assembly, Oyo invited me to breakfast where he was seated with an influential and affluent CAF executive member El Maamry of Tanzania, looking restless and forlorn, he asked me a direct question: “Humphrey, tell me about Tom, who is he and what does he do in Zambia?”

I went through his past history and that he was Lonrho chairperson in Zambia and a business executive and that even the Zambia soccer team air tickets and allowances for players were due to his personal effort.

While Mtine was riding high under the euphoria of a major breakthrough, General Chinkuli dropped a bombshell and told Mtine that he would not contest and ordered him to withdraw his candidature.

We were all taken a back and Chinkuli simply stated that the order to do so came from the Zambian government.

Chinkuli was minister of Sport.

Dennis and I mulled over this issue and wondered what prompted such a decision and when the withdrawal came as a special announcement ahead of congress proceedings, Oyo looked visibly relieved.

My friendship with Dennis blossomed even further when four years later we were in Cairo for another Congress and Africa Cup final when Mtine’s name popped up again as a candidate for CAF first vice presidency. This time, around Julius Bikiloni Sakala a seasoned lawyer and former town clerk of Ndola City Council and late Abram Mokola, a chief executive of former Furncoz and Vitafoam International newly elected as FAZ treasurer, took Cairo by storm.

There was so much clout about them and drew the attention of most delegates.

Sakala who was FAZ first vice president and Mokola made such an impact with most people that we came across saying that Mtine would carry the day.

Again, when it seemed that Mtine had garnered enough support, the unexpected happened: Word went round within our circles that government had ordered him to withdraw from the race. It was such a big blow with delegates coming to Dennis and I wanting to know why this had happened.

Most francophone countries wield power and muster the majority votes and were massively disappointed at the turn of events.

Although Zambia was eliminated during the preliminary round owing to two losses against Cameroun and Tunisia via a one-goal scoreline, yet it was at this tournament that Kalusha Bwalya and Charles Musonda were heralded as the future of Zambia when they made their debut as youngsters.

The stars for Zambia then were Alex Chola and Peter Kaumba from Power Dynamos.

Dennis and I retired almost the same time in December 1999.

Source : The Times of Zambia

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