By Ng’andu Peter Magande
“In April 1993, the ZANACO gave an advance to the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) for the national team’s trip to Mozambique. While the team was away, FAZ Chairman Michael Mwape came to see me and asked for some further financial assistance for the team’s trip to Senegal in West Africa. I demanded that they must first pay back the money they’d borrowed before we could consider another advance. From his passionate and detailed explanation, there was not enough time, as the team was just passing through Zambia on their way to West Africa.
As an ardent supporter of the national football team and as I had consulted my chairman on the first request, which was approved, I approved another advance. The team connected through Lusaka, where more players and officials including FAZ Chairman Mwape joined on the journey to Senegal via Gabon by a Zambia Air Force military plane.
A few days later on 27 April 1993, I left for the USA at the invitation of the NCR Corporation, the suppliers of computers to our bank. On our first day, we had to leave Washington DC very early in the morning for a visit to one of the computer warehousing facilities. As we were having our early breakfast, one of our hosts came over to me and whispered that the plane carrying the Zambia National Team had crashed in West Africa. He continued to say that from the reports received, all on board had perished.
I could not hold back my tears as I dropped my utensils and started sobbing publicly.
We abandoned our breakfast and I retired to my room with a sense of guilt. I concluded that it was our bank’s financial assistance that enabled the team to undertake the fateful journey. I vividly recalled my conversation with FAZ Chairman Mwape, as he’d pleaded with me that without our financial support the team would not make it to Senegal for the match. He was not aware that even with our bank’s financial assistance, the match was not going to be played.
We cancelled the day’s tour programme and the delegation remained at the hotel in mourning for the sporting heroes. As I was now on hypertension treatment, I prescribed to myself another dose of medicine after six hours due to the sad news. Our three weeks’ trip, both in the USA and Scotland was a sorrowful one as we had to answer many questions, everywhere we went, about the accident from so many people, who spoke highly of the departed football players.
On our return to Zambia, I brought the matter of the FAZ advance to our board with a recommendation to have the amounts for the two trips written off. The situation was that the cash drowned with the footballers and no one alive was to be held accountable. The board accepted my recommendation, although the chairman made some comments apportioning some blame on my management.
I visited the accident site and was informed that no salvaging work was ever undertaken by the Zambian Government and the plane wreckage was still at the bottom of the deep ocean.
A few weeks later, the Zambian Government requested the bank for a loan to be used for the salvaging of the ZAF plane off the coast of Gabon. As I was aware that the Zambian Government had no capacity to undertake such a task, I requested for a copy of a contract signed with an organization that was competent in salvaging operations. I insisted on such documentation in view of the large loan amount requested. When no such documentation was presented, I declined to take the government’s request to the Board. This raised a lot of resentment against me within the Government circles.
I learnt later that the loan was approved by the ZANACO Board, a few weeks after I had left the bank. During a trip to Gabon in 1997, I visited the accident site and was informed that no salvaging work was ever undertaken by the Zambian Government and the plane wreckage was still at the bottom of the deep ocean.
The report on the plane accident has not been released to the chagrin of the living relatives of the accident victims. Consultations on the compensation to the thirty affected families were protracted and only concluded and the families paid in 2004 after I became Minister of Finance in President Mwanawasa’s administration.
After our trip to the USA and Scotland in 1993, I was eager and confident to implement the computerization of the bank. We had become acquainted with the latest equipment, which we were shown during our tour of the NCR installations in Dundee, the “City of Discovery” and the home of the first automated teller machine (ATM) in 1967.
One of the computerization milestones achieved by my management was the installation of the first ATM in Zambia’s banking industry. I recall the exuberant mood of the ZANACO staff and guests, as the ATM, dubbed ‘ZANACO 24’, located at the entrance to the head office building, was inaugurated.
The bank’s popularity rose resulting in an increased clientele and the bank’s profit before taxation, which went up from K1,884 million for the year ended March 1992 to K4,072 million for the year ended March 1994.”
The Author was Zambia’s Finance Minister under the Administration of the Late President Patrick Levy Mwanawasa