Zambians pray at graves of team killed in crash

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LUSAKA (AFP) – Thousands of Zambians on Monday prayed at the graves of the 18 players who died in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon 19 years ago, honouring the fallen icons after the Copper Bullets became Africa’s champs.

They died while heading to a World Cup qualifier in 1993, and many Zambians attributed their victory Sunday over Ivory Coast to the benevolent intervention by the spirits of their fallen team.

The team are buried outside the now-disused Independence Stadium, which has been mothballed due to safety concerns, although the graves remain.

“These people started the battle which we have won this year after so many years of tireless effort,” said Amon Banda, as he offered prayers near the graves.

Another fan, Brenda Mwale, said it was important that Zambians offer their prayers to the players who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Chipolopolo Boys.

“We have been helped by the fallen heroes to get this far, and now they should rest in peace,” she said.

The government minister for Lusaka province, Gerry Chanda, laid a wreath at the grave. A pilot by profession, he remembered flying the fallen team to matches.

“I travelled with this team to many places, and I now feel that the best way to honour them is through winning the Cup,” Chanda said.

Business in Lusaka has ground to a standstill, with most shops closed although Monday has not been declared an official holiday.

Thousands of Lusaka residents have gathered at the city’s showgrounds, where the celebrations for the victorious team are to take place later in the day.

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