I will forever live to cherish the moment I accompanied my beloved Flames on a tour of national duty to Angola in 2010 as we boarded the South African Airways flight from Johannesburg for the African football fiesta—the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon)—after 26 years in the wilderness.
Images of that Boeing 767 taking off, soaring into the still night like a giant bird and then disappearing into the horizon, taking us on our historic journey for a dance with the football heavyweights of the continent remain embedded in my heart.
That was six years ago. Well, last Saturday, the 31st edition of Afcon rolled into life and, sadly, my beloved Flames are not part of the spectacle.
While the likes of Wilfred Zaha and Sadio Mane are displaying their magical skills in Gabon, Flames players are busy catching ngumbi under street lights. Oh yes, while Ghana’s Black Stars are charming fans with their sweet-passing game, some of our players are busy kukhwefula as they aimlessly move up and down the streets in town.
Oh yes, while our dear Flames are eating zibwente and cha abambo puffs, their colleagues who made the grade by qualifying for the showcase, are having three-course meals in plush hotels in Gabon. That is the painful reality we have to face—that our boys are perennial underachievers.
But perhaps, the solace is that we are not the only ones. Achimwene apa Zembo (Zambia) are also out in the cold having failed to qualify. South Africa’s Bafana Bafana (or should I call them ‘Banana Banana’?) have also been reduced to kwaito dancers and are eating ‘inyama eyosiwe’ (braai meat) in the comfort of their homes.
But at least Chipolopolo and Bafana have won the continental showpiece before and more often they do qualify and go beyond the group stages while our team has only qualified twice (in 1984 and 2010).
So, all we can do now is adopt teams to support. As for me, ndakwera Zimbabwe’s Warriors for two reasons. First, because they are the only team from Southern Africa and secondly, I did my tertiary education in that country where I spent two-and-a-half years studying journalism.
Having said that, probably it is time we dug deep into our hearts and conducted some soul-searching on the way forward. The next qualifiers start in June and yet we do not have a coach in place. And while billions of kwacha are being siphoned from public coffers, the Flames continue to be underfunded. It’s sad isn’t it that at a time when our boys should have been sharing the stage with the likes of Zaha, they are preparing to play a friendly match against a Mickey Mouse select side from China. Lord have mercy! Uloliwe, uloliwe wayidudula neng’esiza hah! (Oh yes, the train is pushing). Glory be to God. n