VETERAN Commentator, Dennis Liwewe is no more; like a candle in the wind one of Zambia’s football pundits has been blown off from the surface of the earth.
The 78-year-old Liwewe; who had his name called out in full by almost everyone, will forever be embedded in the bedrocks of Zambian football history and the journalism profession.
Whenever one mentions the name Dennis Liwewe; what immediately comes to mind is the fateful April 28, 1993 Gabon air crash.
Incidentally, Liwewe has died on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, six days before Zambia commemorates 21 years since the demise of the 18 players, officials and Zambia Air Force (ZAF) crew on board the Buffalo plane off the coast of Libreville, Gabon.
The crew perished en-route to a joint Tunisia/USA 1994 Africa/World Cup qualifier against Senegal, when the ZAF plane carrying the team exploded in midair after taking off from a stop in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.
News of the team’s crash was received with shock in Zambia and across the world, but for Liwewe, it was more shocking especially that he was scheduled to have been on that same flight having returned with the team from Mauritius for the same qualifiers, but survived because he had to organise some money for the Senegal trip.
I saw the way Liwewe broke down when reciting the names of the players on Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) when he was asked to eulogise the team.
For him, having known the players and officials so well, he felt like he had lost his biological children; he was there when most of them were starting their football careers.
Liwewe also loved his family so much – he always talked about his children with a passion and always explained what each and every one of them was up to.
With the kind of passion he had for his children, Liwewe had the same love, if not more for football such that he knew the players on the line-up like the back of his hand and could recite their history without reading on a piece of paper.
Because of that he was internationally acclaimed and also worked as a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
He recounted the crew starting with the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president Michael Mwape; Wilson Sakala the FAZ committee member, Godfrey Chitalu, coach; Alex Chola, assistant coach; Wilson Mtonga, team doctor; Nelson Zimba the Youth and Sport Deputy permanent secretary and Joseph Salim the Zambia News Agency (ZANA) News Editor.
The ZAF crew: Colonel Fenton Mhone, Lt. Col. Victor Mubanga, Col. James Sachika and Warrant Offcier E Nambote.
When he came to the players he spoke about Eston Mulenga, Richard Mwanza, Derby Makinka, Timothy Mwitwa, John Soko, Whiteson Changwe, Efford Chabala, Samuel Chomba, Kelvin Mutale, Godfrey Kangwa, Moses Masuwa, Patrick Banda, Numba Mwila, Winter Mumba, Kenani Simambe, Robert Watyakeni and Moses Chikwalakwala.
When he got to Wisdom Chansa’s name, he went Whizz…. before breaking down.
Seeing him break down like that on the screen just broke my heart; that was when I saw the passion of the man for football.
We learnt after that episode that he was admitted to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) with high blood pressure that almost took his life and he was advised by his personal physician to go it slow with football commentaries.
Among the most fondly remembered matches he covered, was the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games in Korea, where Zambia beat Italy 4-0 and he regarded this match as one of the most exciting games he ever broadcast.
His dream was to see Zambia qualify to the World Cup; especially that the team died in its quest for the country’s first ever World Cup qualification; during a time when qualification was so near; yet so far.
I used to like football and always followed Liwewe’s commentaries on both radio and television when I was young and sometimes it was surprising that Dennis was faster than the game on the radio; even before the ball was in the net he would have already screamed: “It’s a GOAL!”
After the demise of the team and seeing the way Liwewe broke down, that was when I started loving football.
I came to know Dennis Liwewe in person in 1994, a few months after I joined the Times of Zambia during one of the qualifiers for South Africa 1996 Africa Cup at Independence Stadium.
He always joked with me being his traditional cousin – he coming from the eastern part of Zambia and I from the northern part of the country. His jokes went outside the football frame (those who knew him better, know what I am talking about).
I remember during one of the international matches at Independence Stadium in Lusaka when Andrew Tembo came so close to scoring, but missed a sitter and Liwewe had already jumped from his seat exclaiming: “It’s a GOAL”.
But he jumped too soon and in his frustration after Tembo shot wide, he went: “Andrew Tembo, this boy, born and bred in Kalingalinga; he has missed a sitter!”
The other time he was in the commentary box analysing the match with his son Ponga, then he asked him, “Ponga what do you think?”
Ponga in his response answered; “you are right Dennis”, then Dennis Liwewe answered him back: “Ponga I am your father!”
That was just how hilarious the man was!
So many times I would meet him watching local football, even lower division teams with former Republican President Rupiah Banda, who also loves football.
I remember covering the South Africa 1996 Africa Cup with Dennis Liwewe and joined him in the booth during commentary time and could see how engrossed the man was in the sport.
I was on national assignment again with Liwewe to Burkina Faso during the 1998 Africa Cup finals when Zambia performed dismally and he was emotionally involved and his blood pressure shot up. He was advised by his doctor to quit doing football commentaries.
I also recall on April 6, 2002 when FIFA president, Joseph Sepp Blatter came to officially open Football House on Alick Nkhata Road in Lusaka and Liwewe asked me to give a vote of thanks.
I had never stood before a crowd of that magnitude before to give a speech, worse still; I was caught off guard because I was not told anything about giving speeches when I was sent to cover that assignment by my then Sports Editor, Martin Wamunyima (rest his soul) when Mr Liwewe pulled me from the crowd to give a vote of thanks.
I was just a novice in the profession then, and I trembled as I stood before such a crowd, with a large VIP table behind me.
I was speechless at first because firstly; the whole episode was a shock to me – being pulled out of the crowd unprepared, no speech; just my pen and note book.
Then one Lenny Nkhuwa, the current chairperson in charge of women football affairs who was in the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) executive at the time, popped up from the crowd to my rescue and whispered to me: “Tell him (Blatter) to support women football; talk about women football.”
The words rang in my mind a few seconds before miraculously God put words in my mouth like someone else was speaking for me; I spoke about so many things, including support to women football development in Zambia.
That was like 12 years ago now and achieving a World Cup feat for any team, especially a women’s football team in Zambia, seemed like a far-fetched dream then.
I remember this other time he came to my office along Freedom Way after he celebrated his 75th birthday and in his usual joking mood went: “I want to give you a scoop mwaice (young girl).
Here is my biography. Write it in advance, you won’t struggle for information about me after I am gone. I have given you everything. Use it as a feature so that many people can get to read it,” Liwewe said.
Among some of the things he high-lighted in that profile were his life as a Journalist/broadcaster, having worked for the National Mirror under the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) then, known as Anglo-American Corporation, as a junior reporter on the mining newspaper – the Nchanga Drum in Chingola where he was assistant editor and was later appointed editor of the publication.
He was later transferred to the public relations department to become public relations officer and in 1974 he was moved to Lusaka as director of media and public relations at ZCCM and later as a broadcaster for the Zambia Broadcasting Services (ZBS) now ZNBC.
He also talked about his achievements as a widely-travelled man whose career took him to 42 different countries in the world covering football for both radio and television.
After his retirement from ZCCM in 1986, he started a programme to sensitise retirees under the Future Search programme situated at the corner of Burma and Jacaranda Roads in Lusaka saying he did not want retirees to suffer after their retirement.
“It was such a blow for me after my retrenchment. Fortunately I had some investments here and there, so I was not very affected. But some of my friends were not that lucky, they did not handle news of their retirement well,” he said.
Asked about people who imitated his way of commentary, Liwewe advised young people to have their own identity saying it was the best way one could be remembered.
In 1977, he was awarded with the Order of Distinguished Service by first Republican President Kenneth Kaunda, in recognition for his contribution to the development of soccer.
In 2005, Dennis Liwewe was awarded a medal of honour under late president Levy Mwanawasa for his contribution to the development of sport in Zambia.
Apart from all the successes he scored in his life, Liwewe was a husband, father and grandfather.
Dennis Liwewe will be remembered for his wealth in football (that fortunately he documented) and more so for the great sense of humour and the smiles he brought to many peoples’ lives during his time as a commentator and after retirement.
Indeed the cold hand of death has robbed Zambia of one of football’s pundits and like a candle in the wind, Dennis Liwewe is no more.
Farewell Dennis, Go well!
[The author is former Times of Zambia Sports Editor]