By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D Emeritus Professor of Sociology
The history of Zambian football or soccer goes back to the 1940s and 1950s when Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) was a colony of Britain. As Zambians from rural villages congregated for work in towns and cities in the copper belt, they began to form football teams in the townships. As a child in the early 1960s, I heard about the indomitable legendary earlier players such as “Captain Means” or Mizyawo Mkandawire and Ginger Pensulo. These early players from the 1940 and 50s were so poor but skilled and tough that some of them played barefoot.
Probably the most historic of the early Zambian teams’ foray into international football was the rivalry between Zambia and our neighbors the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In the 1950s, the DRC was called the Congo. Their national team was the Congolese Leopards. Zambia was not just beaten but the Congolese Leopards teams repeatedly and soundly humiliated Zambia with large goal margins such as 10-0, 9 -1, or 10 – 1.
As a child in 1960 in my home village in Lundazi, I had some uncles and other adult men who had worked in the cities and towns in Zambia and Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe. They described to us in hash-hash tones why the Zambian teams used to lose repeatedly to the Congolese Leopards. The uncles said they had heard the Congolese team had some of the most powerful juju or magic.
When the Congolese player shot at the Zambian goal, the goalkeeper would suddenly see a fierce lion charging at him. Being afraid of being mauled and killed the goalkeeper would jump or duck aside. Soon after that, he would see the ball in the net behind him as a scored goal he had just conceded. The Zambian goalkeeper sometimes saw an arrow or maybe three arrows all swiftly coming at him or a huge train steaming toward him right in the middle of the goalposts. The goalkeepers jumped out of the way. This is how the Zambian teams conceded so many goals in the 1940s and 50s until this one day.
According to my uncles, the story was that one day the Zambian team coaches, players, and other adults somehow found the antidote to the Congolese juju. I never dreamed that the story would be connected to Mr. Desderius Chuumbu’s posting of Mr. Brian Mulenga’s article in Facebook on 30th January 2023. According to Mr. Mulenga, there was one Zambian courageous goalkeeper from Luanshya: “Yotham Mabange was the only goalkeeper who kept score lines respectable when Zambian teams played Congolese teams.”
According to Mr. Mulenga: “Yotham Mabange was warned that when they played against a Congolese side, he would face a lot of juju and magic. Instead of being cowed, Mabange swore he would die defending his goal whether he saw a lion or locomotive or spear flying towards him in goal. Nka fwa nayo he vowed in Bemba.”
According to the legend my uncles told me and what I am hearing now, when Yotham Mulenga played the Congolese the first time, he conceded the first 2 goals because he ducked or jumped out of the way of a charging lion and three swiftly approaching arrows to escape from certain death. Zambia was down 2-0. But as the game went on and a massive train came barreling toward him, he stood his ground and courageously faced and trapped the train to his chest with his arms saving another goal. But he instantly collapsed and died on the spot between the two goal posts still clutching the ball. Nkafwanayo died saving the goal. The legend is that he was buried between the goal posts on that football field. Some people say Nkafwanayo was buried on the center circle of the football field where he lost his life courageously defending Zambia. Some people say the football field was Dag Hammarskjöld Stadium in Ndola.
The legend of Nkafwanayo is so strong in Zambian football history that this story on Mr. Desderius Chuumbu’s Facebook post quickly had 656 likes, 222 comments, and 60 shares.
A few of the comments on Facebook.
“I have learnt a lot from the article. I think we need much more article about history of the Zambian soccer history.”
“I grew up knowing this story was true
Ati he was even buried together with the ball but mwandi chalo ichi.”
“This story settles many questions I’ve failed to answer… What was Kafwanayo’s real names? When did he die? What team did he play for? and so on. Thank you for the story.”
“I think we need a current Nkafwa nayo for Zambian football to change for the better mwe. Thank you for the story”.
“I’m already used to this story and nothing is gonna change my mind. I love the nkafwanayo story whether it happened or not.”
My own conclusion as the author of this article is that both the Chipolopolo boys and our Zambia Copper Queens football teams need to play with the Nkafwanayo courageous fierce mentality in order for the nation to be successful in football.