Football and Politics in Africa: A Not-To-Be-Missed BBC Radio Documentary

By | January 11th, 2017 | No Comments

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“Beyond the Pitch” is a riveting BBC World Service radio documentary that explores the close links between the “beautiful game” of football and the “dirty game” of politics in multiple African countries.

Produced by Farayi Mungazi and Penny Dale, the 50-minute feature aired on the eve of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Gabon, which marks the 60th anniversary of the continent’s most prestigious sporting event.

The documentary opens with Nigeria’s boycott of AFCON 1996 in South Africa. The last-minute withdrawal of the Super Eagles came in retaliation for President Nelson Mandela’s scathing criticism of Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s regime, which in November 1995 had executed author Ken Saro Wiwa and eight more Ogoni environmental activists in a sham trial.

The next segment is captivating and among the most historically significant. It tells the story of how football helped Algeria’s struggle for independence from France through mesmerizing interviews with Mohamed and Khadidja Maouche. He was a young professional footballer in France in the late 1950s, but the newlyweds were also members of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the main Algerian liberation movement. The couple reveals how they secretly worked together to facilitate an exodus of Algerian-born footballers from their French clubs to play for the FLN “national” team. “No-one knew I was married to Maouche,” Khadidja says. “They would just be told a FLN activist wanted to speak to them. I would talk to them individually to say: ‘It’s an order, that’s it,’ and they all agreed.” In 1960 Mohamed Maouche eventually joined the FLN team, which played matches in front of large crowds in North Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, and Eastern Europe. “We were the first ambassadors of the revolution and the Algerian people,” he recalls with profound emotion half a century later.

Burundi’s current President Pierre Nkurunziza, a qualified football coach and owner of Hallelujah FC, is mentioned as a bridge to a terrific interview with Dr. Hikabwa Chipande, an historian and Michigan State University alumnus (PhD, 2015). Now a lecturer in African history at the University of Zambia, Chipande brings the BBC reporter through the archives in Lusaka where he conducted doctoral research on the history of Zambian football. As they look at sources documenting former president Kenneth Kaunda’s passion for and involvement in the game, Chipande points to a 1974 photograph of Kaunda serving food to the national team—quite an endearing, populist image. Mungazi then travels to Luanshya, on the Copperbelt, to talk football and politics with Dickson Makwaza, one of the players served by Kaunda in 1974, and with 91-year-old Tom Mtine, a legendary football administrator.

In the second half of the documentary we leap ahead to AFCON 2010 in Angola. The Togo national team bus was targeted by armed separatists from the enclave of Cabinda at the border with the Republic of Congo: “probably the most dramatic moment ‘off the pitch’ in the history of the Africa Cup of Nations,” Mungazi says. The armed attack killed two men and wounded several others: “one of the worst experiences I’ve had in my life,” said Togolese striker and English Premier League veteran, Emmanuel Adebayor.

The last time Uganda qualified for AFCON was in 1978 when the infamous Idi Amin was still in power. A local academic and former national team players explain how Amin, a keen boxer himself, bankrolled sports during his dictatorship (1971-79) to boost nationalism and also as a weapon of mass distraction. But we also hear of the traumatic experiences of John Ntensibe and Mama Baker. The former was imprisoned and forced to load bodies onto trucks after scoring the winning goal for Express FC against the army team, Simba, while Baker, a devoted Express supporter, was arrested twice for little more than being Uganda’s biggest soccer fan.

Fast forward again to the 21st century: we hear about George Weah, Africa’s only World Player of the Year (1995), who launched a career in politics in Liberia after retiring from the game. Weah lost a presidential election in 2004 (to future Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Sirleaf Johnson), but recently won a Senate seat and may run again for his country’s highest office.

The final chapter in the story of the links between politics and football focuses on Ghana. There, top clubs Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko have long been entangled in party politics and presidential contests. Veteran Ghanaian reporter Kwabena Yeboah also describes the emergence of Real Republikans, a super club of the 1960s closely connected to President Kwame Nkrumah. Subsequent regimes in Ghana, it is noted, used the men’s national team, the Black Stars, to strengthen their popularity and “perpetuate their reign.”

As a scholar who has been writing about African football history, culture, and politics for a long time, I found Farayi Mungazi and Penny Dale’s “Beyond the Pitch” documentary to be finely researched and evocatively presented through African voices. The producers did well to carefully bring out the game’s contradictory capacity to be a force for empowerment and disempowerment. What a great way to get ready for the upcoming 2017 AFCON in Gabon. And what a wonderful resource for teaching and research.

Click here to listen and download the podcast version of the documentary.

Ted Dumitru, innovative coach in South Africa, dies at 76

By | May 27th, 2016 | 1 Comment

Ted Dumitru, SAFCA Technical Advisor during the South African Football Coaches Association at SAFA House, Johannesburg on 22 October 2014 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Ted Dumitru at the South African Football Coaches Association, SAFA House, Johannesburg on 22 October 2014 © Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Ted Dumitru, the Romanian-born coach who had a successful career in South Africa, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack on Thursday at Eastgate Shopping Centre in Johannesburg.

“Throughout our conversations over the years,” recalls Zola Doda in a touching tribute published on Kick Off magazine’s website, “Ted didn’t talk a lot about his country of birth, Romania, which came across as strange to me in the beginning. All he spoke about was South Africa and the African continent as a whole—but over a period time I learned to understand how much he really loved this country and this continent.”

Having coached briefly in the U.S., where he acquired citizenship,  Dumitru took the helm of Zambia’s national team in 1981 and later that of Swaziland. He arrived in apartheid South Africa to coach Kaizer Chiefs in 1986, a time of mass protests and army troops deployed in the black townships. Dumitru went on to win four league titles, with Sundowns (1997-98 and 1998-99) and Chiefs (2003-04 and 2004-05), and also had a brief stint as national team coach.

Beyond his clubs’ successes, Dumitru had a major impact on South African coaching education and on youth development. I saw this personally and tracked it over two decades in South Africa and from overseas.

I first met Ted Dumitru in 1995.  A friend I had met on the soccer pitch at Wits University took me to the South African Football Association’s first coaching certification course held at the School of Excellence. I was introduced to Dumitru, then the Director of Coaching at SAFA, who was dressed in his typical sweatsuit-and-baseball cap attire. As soon as he learned of my work on the history of football in South Africa, he asked me to return the following morning and give a formal presentation to the coaches. Dumitru believed a country needed to know its football history in order to develop its national identity.

The next day I faced an engaged audience that included Patrick Pule “Ace” Ntsoelengoe,  Cedric “Sugar Ray” Xulu,  Neil Tovey and many other legendary figures in the South African game. If that context wasn’t intimidating enough, I was also scheduled to follow the charismatic Clive Barker, then-national team coach who, a few months later, would lead Bafana Bafana to their first (and still only) African Nations Cup title.

Dumitru introduced me in a graciously professional and courteous way, which made me feel less intimidated by the moment and helped set the tone for what turned out to be a constructive session and dialogue among the participants.

During that visit, I learned of Dumitru’s background in Romania in the late 1960s and 1970s. I listened to him discuss the emergence of “scientific football” as popularized by Valeriy Lobanowski, the legendary coach of Dynamo Kiev and the USSR. At the time, it was a pioneering approach. It brought together empirical data, computer technology, Soviet collectivist ideology, and Dutch total football. It transformed the way Dumitru conceived, organized, and managed football teams. As Jonathan Wilson succinctly puts it, “football was less about individuals than about coalitions and the connections between them.”

To his credit, Dumitru’s experiences in southern Africa altered his football philosophy and practice to reflect local conditions. Dumitru passionately believed in the technical proficiency, dynamism, and creativity of local players. He spent much of the latter part of his career teaching both young boys and adult coaches how to draw on these strengths while combining them with aspects of scientific football. In the words of Mark Gleeson, Dumitru became “an outspoken proponent of the establishment of a so-called ‘ South African style of play’ with heavy emphasis on individual flair.”

This emphasis was clearly demonstrated before my eyes again in 2010—a magical year for South Africa as it successfully hosted the first World Cup played on African soil. Dumitru came to Pietermaritzburg to help train local coaches and in the process supervised a training session at the Izichwe Youth Football program, where I was involved. His principles were put into action, as he encouraged each and every player to think about space, quick decision-making, smart passing, confidence in dribbling, relationship with teammates, and to be unafraid of expressing joy on the pitch. When one boy scored a mesmerizing goal but did not celebrate, Dumitru encouraged him to do so: “Soccer is supposed to be fun!” he exclaimed.

Dumitru, of course, had his shortcomings. According to Gleeson, he was perceived by many as “dogmatic” and few can forget his public statement that South Africa’s first-round exit from the 2006 African Nations Cup was partly due to the fact that “my players don’t know how to play in the rain.”

Even so, Dumitru should be remembered as an innovative coach who left an important legacy in South Africa. He introduced new ideas from eastern Europe at a time when the country was isolated from international football and when South African coaching was dominated by English-speaking whites. Dumitru stands out as a rare white coach who genuinely believed in decolonizing South African football. To the end, he practiced what he preached. At the time of his passing, Dumitru was in town to give a speech at the South African Football Coaches’ Association Youth Coaching Seminar at Johannesburg Stadium.

Mining for Goals on the Zambian Copperbelt

By | April 3rd, 2015 | No Comments

 

 

Zambia won the African Nations Cup in 2012. It is a recognized regional football powerhouse. As in most African countries, Zambians are fiercely passionate and knowledgeable about the game.

 

Yet to this day no academic history of soccer in Zambia exists. Hikabwa Decius Chipande, a native of Zambia currently completing his PhD in history at Michigan State University, is determined to eliminate this inexcusable oversight.

 

On March 26, the Football Scholars Forum, a fútbol think tank based in the MSU History Department, hosted an online discussion of Chipande’s paper titled “Mining for Goals: Football and Social Change on the Zambian Copperbelt, 1940s to 1960s.” This paper is part of Chipande’s larger doctoral dissertation in African history, which I am supervising at MSU.

 

The paper was precirculated on the FSF website and then, following the group’s tradition, the author was invited to make brief introductory remarks about the project before ably taking questions from the audience for 90 minutes.

 

Participants from three continents engaged in a discussion about the changing structure of clubs on the Zambian Copperbelt; sport in Africanist scholarship; the place of Zambia in wider south-central and southern African histories; local fan culture; and the importance of print media and oral interviews to represent multiple local voices and perspectives on the past.

 

The audio recording of the full session can be downloaded here.

Film Review: “E18hteam” — Zambia, From Tragedy to Glory

By | October 24th, 2014 | 5 Comments



I settled into my seat at Fresh View Cinemas, Levy Park, in Lusaka, for the premiere of “e18hteam”—the first feature film about the history of football in Zambia—with more than a passing interest in the subject.

With generous funding from the FIFA João Havelange Research Scholarship, I have spent the past several years researching and writing the first academic history of football in Zambia as part of my doctoral studies at Michigan State University.

The cinema audience in Lusaka included football administrators, fans, members of the media, and VIPs like Shallot Scott, the wife of Zambia’s Vice President Guy Scott, and Roald Poulsen, the Danish coach who helped rebuild Zambia’s national team after the 1993 Gabon air crash that killed 18 supremely talented players.

The film is a partnership between Zambian producer Ngosa Chungu and Spanish writer, director and producer Juan Rodriguez-Briso. “e18hteam” focuses on Chipolopolo (Copper-bullets), Zambia’s national team. The narrative begins with Zambia’s famous 4-0 destruction of Italy in the 1988 Olympic tournament in South Korea. Then it turns to the tragedy that defined a generation: the 1993 Gabon air crash. The film goes on to explore the rebuilding of a new team, which (almost miraculously) reached the 1994 AFCON final against Nigeria. The narrative arc closes on an uplifting note as it documents the golden generation that won Zambia its first continental crown in 2012 in Libreville, just a few miles from the site of the crash nineteen years earlier.
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Zambian Fútbology

By | June 6th, 2014 | 1 Comment

chipande_May_2014Guest Post by *Hikabwa Chipande

LUSAKA—On June 4, 2014, I was invited by Dr. Walima Kalusa, the University of Zambia’s History Department head, to present a fútbological paper based on my current doctoral research on the political and social history of football in Zambia (1940s-1993). The seminar on “Football and Social Change on the Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt, 1940s to 1960s” was well attended by UNZA History staff, graduate students, and other interested scholars.

I explored how urbanized African miners appropriated football from their European supervisors and, after World War II, created a new black popular culture. When colonial authorities and mining companies introduced post-War social welfare programs to appease miners and urban residents, local Africans used these structures to demand greater access to resources for organized football and other amenities in their communities. In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, Africans popularized the game on the Copperbelt and used it to build vibrant social networks and communities to replace what they left in their rural villages.

As early as 1937, the British had established the Central Native Committee, which seized control of African sport due to fears that the colonized might use football as a tool for political agitation. Despite these moves, ordinary African athletes, officials, and fans developed alternative ways of organizing and enjoying their football. For example, supporters clubs formed. These hard-core fans unexpectedly made club officials and mine managers more accountable to the people. The emerging vernacular fan culture, which no scholar has ever researched before, shows how Zambians were sometimes able to use sport to rework the application of harsh colonial policies.

Another aspect of the history of Zambian football that has eluded researchers has to do with international matches played in colonial times. As I have discovered, Copperbelt teams played in the Belgian Congo, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and South Africa. My work illustrates how these sporting adventures, among other things, turned into incubators for Pan-Africanism because the camaraderie experienced by Zambians in these contests sharpened their sense of solidarity with fellow Africans in neighboring colonies.
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Dennis Liwewe, Zambia’s Football Voice, Dies at 78

By | April 23rd, 2014 | 3 Comments

Guest Post by Hikabwa Chipande (@HikabwaChipande)

Dennis LiweweLUSAKA—Zambia is mourning football radio commentator Dennis Liwewe, who died on April 22, 2014, at the age of 78.

Liwewe caught the soccer fever on the Copperbelt in the late 1950s and 1960s, an era that led to the emergence of great players such as Samuel “Zoom” Ndlovu, John “Ginger” Pensulo and Kenny Banda. He became the first black football commentator in the early 1960s before Zambia’s independence. Liwewe’s passionate radio broadcasts made him a household name among ordinary Zambians. At a time when there was no television, Liwewe’s enthusiastic and absorbing descriptions of matches helped popularize the game across the country.

By the mid 1970s, he was known as a prominent football announcer in neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Botswana. When Zambia reached the final of the 1974 African Cup of Nations finals in Cairo (which Chipolopolo lost to Zaire [now DR Congo]), the Egyptian weekly magazine Al-Musawar labeled Dennis Liwewe the greatest football commentator south of the Sahara. He drew favorable comparisons with the famous Egyptian radio and television broadcaster Mohamed Latif. (Latif had played for Egypt’s national team in the 1930s, then became a referee in the 1940s, before going on to earn the nickname “Sheikh of Commentators” in the 1950s.)

From the 1960s to the early 1990s, football on the radio was synonymous with Dennis Liwewe. His emotionally loaded calls made listeners of all ages in towns and villages around the country visualize what was happening in a stadium far away. He could estimate and explain all free-kick angles, distances to the goal, and the speed of the ball in a vivid and unmistakable voice. He had that distinctive ability to carry listeners with him, bringing enjoyment to their lives and even making them proud to be modern Zambians. It was not uncommon to hear both young and old people reciting and imitating his soccer commentaries, a kind of oral literature. No wonder Zambians felt that broadcasters who did not announce like Liwewe were just not good enough.

Even after the introduction of the Mwembeshi satellites and television broadcasts in 1974, Liwewe’s radio work remained popular. It was common for soccer fans to watch live matches on television with the volume turned down to listen to Liwewe on the radio. Many fans also went to Independence Stadium in Lusaka carrying two-band radios so they would not miss Liwewe’s entertaining narration. My good friend Mtoniswa Banda reminded me that another reason why fans carried radios to the stadium was because Liwewe often exaggerated or made up his play-by-play commentary. Even when the action was dull and distant, he could narrate it as if it were only a few inches from the goalposts! Other Zambian supporters also note that Liwewe became too commercial in his old age, to the point that he demanded to be paid in cash for an interview about the history of the game.

Aside from his radio work, Liwewe was employed by the Mining Mirror as a sports reporter for the Nchanga Consolidated Mines in Chingola. Subsequently, he rose to the position of Director of Public Relations of the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) before retiring in 1985.

Dennis Liwewe’s name in Zambia evokes memories of young people in urban townships and rural villages assembling makeshift radios, repairing (or buying) new ones, putting their old batteries out in the sun hoping to get enough power to listen to their favorite football announcer. History will show that here in south-central Africa his voice, passion, and imagination were not only admired, but loved, like the beautiful game itself.

The beautiful (Zambian) game in a beautiful (Chinese) stadium

By | March 4th, 2014 | No Comments



The latest Cowries and Rice podcast features Michigan State University History PhD candidate Hikabwa Decius Chipande discussing China’s stadium diplomacy in Zambia. Intriguingly, the enterprising hosts of the podcast, Winslow Robertson and Dr. Nkemjika Kalu, contacted Chipande in Lusaka after reading his “China’s Stadium Diplomacy: A Zambian Perspective” post on this blog.

In the interview (listen above), Chipande expands on his original contribution to explore several key aspects of the national and international politics of stadium construction in contemporary Zambia.  Chipande shares his expert view on Zambian responses to the new arenas, inspired by Elliot Ross’s recent essay on the topic for Roads & Kingdoms, and contextualizes them within larger Chinese investments in mining and other sectors of the economy in south-central Africa.

Chipande is a recipient of the FIFA Havelange Research Scholarship for his doctoral dissertation on the social and political history of football in Zambia, 1950-1993. Reach out to him on Twitter at @HikabwaChipande.

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