Congolese Forgotten “Tirailleurs”, Winners of Africa Cup of Nations 1968

They valiantly defeated Ghanaian Black Stars in the final of AFCON – 5thEdition in Addis-Ababa, and the new President of the Republic, Joseph Désiré Mobutu declared January 23rdas National Sport Day when he welcomed the Congo Leopoldville winning national team back from Ethiopia, harbouringthe tournament prestigious trophy competition.

Today, the Democratic Republic of Congo has sent them into oblivion; they are the forgotten heroes. Decision makers and stakeholders alike are entangled in futile efforts to care about themselves. Often they do not talk about these truthful ambassadors in their secluded entourage as the Republic authorities. They are busy hustling and bustling, involved in countless imbroglios relating to hullabaloos that cause havoc between FCC and CASH as if the DRC came about to be with the advent of recent elections. They are :

1. KabambaNicodème (Capt) Daring. 12. Kalala Pierre (Mazembe).

2. Kembo Jean (V.Club). 13. Mulongo Freddy (Daring)

3. Raoul Kidumu (Diable RougesThysville). 14. Mungamuni Léon (Nomades).

4. Kibonge Jeff (V.Club). 15. Ngenyibungi Emmanuel

(Kananga Union: Tshinkunku)

5. Mukombo Albert (Mazembe). 16. Mwila Albert (Dragon).

6. Mvukani Philippe (Dragon). 17. Mbuli Paul (Himalaya).

7. Eat Solomon (V.Club). 18. Muwawa Ignace (Daring).

8. Katumba Pierre (Mazembe). 19. MokiliSaïo Ernest (Dragon).

9. Matumona Bernard (Himalya). 20. Bilengi Albert (Belgian).

10. Tshimanga (F.C Kipushi). 21. EbengoAugustin (Daring).

11. MwanaKasongo Pierre (Daring). 22. Lembi Simon (Mikado).

Many crusademembers are already late. The crusaders who have survived an abusein the past and continue to endure the hardship, work so hard to ensure they survive another day, as they deploy superhuman efforts considering their very advanced age, without any authority or men of good faith taking heed to their daily plea.

Indeed, they have reached such seniority as skinny as nails, with no one caringwhether they all became plump and glistening in health. The DRC has chosen to ignore to realizing that 1968 champions were not looked after and supported, and then, depending on the magnitude of the damage caused by this acrimonious insurgency, the voices shall rise like a noisy rumbling or the swift that would sound as an alarm for distracted Republican watchers to agree and moderate their enthusiasm out of respect for the country heroes of 1968 that they are, filled with surplus consideration for their prowess which had just raised the notoriety of Zaire and Mobutu, three years after he seized power, to remain eternally in awe of the generations one after another at a jerky pace.

The DRC no longer celebrates its former champions who placed the country on the pedestal for the very first time. On January 23, 2020, no remembrance activities were scheduled to salute their exploitsgrandiloquence. Not a single mention of this date in order to revive the event in the collective memory. Fortunately Director KabuloMwanaKabulo managed to get hold of some of theplayers from the Asmara and Addis Ababaepic on Sunday January 26, 2020 during the Sunday sport show “Sports Dimanche” aired on RTNC1. Léon Mungamuni and Salomon Mange were among the panelists withKabulo anchoring the show. On this date, the resonance of “Vive les Léopards”verses composed and produced by Rochereau in 1968, to locate the event, does no longer resound on the airwaves of television and radio stations within the Republic. However, the occasion wasa suitablefait accompli for so many splendours in order to dazzle memories.

Two years ago, the former Prime Minister, Bruno TshibalaNzenze visited NicodèmeKabambaKabengu in the Administrative Municipality of Barumbu; the Prime Minister at the time had promised the government’s assistance to the former Leopards, before lashing out: “I am moved and I lack words to express what I feel in front of ElderKabamba. I was still a student and like all young people at the time, I was amazed by Kabamba and his teammates”. Aged 82 years, sick and in a state of asthenia, Nicodeme remains, like his former teammates, left to his own fate. What about that promise?

Bruno’s visit was only a trailing luminosity of another shooting star, which splashed off once the star has engulfed into horizons of the starry night space sphere. All kinds of thoughts are allowed in, stakeholders go around and endlessly start again, because thoughts never allow to be completely penetrated; this silence of things; the deep reasons of things, leads to silence; but it is enough that these things are mentioned and their impenetrability brought to light, there is a reflection in their eyes: the gaze of the Champions of 1968, dead or alive, remains singularly piercing, when they all remain fixed on this interior dream pursued endlessly in office corridors for recognition which is undoubtedly and undeniably due to them.

Driven each time in their quest for accountability, Ernest MokiliSaïo, Raoul Kidumu and Jeff kibonge’s teammates, still suffer from certain awkwardness on the part of those supposed to restore their rights. Far from ending it there, the champions of Addis Ababa, for many decades, have not had the glory and respect that their bravery justified. If it is necessary to question the sincerity of Bruno Tshibala following his statement, one cannot help wondering also the reasons which slow down the materialization of his promise, because a recognition, if it is sincerely contemplated, has not need to wait more than 50 years before coming true. Today, almost all of these renowned footballers are dead and will not be there to witness this recognition, if necessary. The situation of people targeted here and whose merits are proven, requires measuring all issues at stake, because it affects the consistency of a right that has been shaped over the course of Republican history.

These spiralsteps should give rise to a very complimentary outcome, an emphatic and outraged enthusiasm; if these champions would sing rave praises, the Ministry of Sports, the Ministry of Culture and Arts as well as FECOFA, without forgetting the club presidents, shall all pay tribute to these players by hosting conferences and workshops for the rising youth and talk about the experience of these outstanding players as well as the respect they granted to the national jersey without complaining, even in the absence of bonuses from the monetary order. Surviving legends shall be invited, for some of them who can still do so physically, and take part in information, culture and history seminars, hosted inperpetuating their thoughts from which this very youth would refer to. FECOFA President, Mr Constant OmariSelemani and MoiseKatumbi, Chairman of TP Mazembe, are called upon to showcase their leadership with regard to their prerogatives and duties they assume both in the DRC, at the CAF level and FIFA, including the aura they enjoy, in order to bequeath to the young Congolese a healthy sporting heritage.

The private sector involvement and contribution are essential, given the repetitive reluctance of the State whose interest in sport has no place in its priority objectives. With the upcoming construction of the new TP Mazembe stadium and the renovations that will take place at FECOFAheadquarters, refusing to build a museum retracing the history of TP Mazembe and the national team included, trophies in support, would come under an outrageous annihilation which would languish the bliss for the projects. Taking advantage of their presence translates into a blessing; the tales of champions of 1968 would be a giant leap ahead in the conception, design of football books by the Congolese, for the Congolese, Africa and the world, and from the Congolese perspective, notwithstanding their dreadful treatment compared tooverseas French fighters, called “Tirailleurs” who continue to claim recognition from France for having defended it during the World War, paying the dear price to the peril of their lives. On the other hand the youth and the world of football in general, will learn and read the story of the 1968 heroes that will be written by non-Africans from an angle dedicated to praising or fooling around the merits of the Congolese heroes, with as many floggings, without taking account the usual realities which form the local Congolese and African context holistically.

News Reporter

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