Ngosa Chungu is a young dynamic lady who is the brains behind the film e18hteam, a film that tells the history of the Zambian football team and crew that perished in the 1993 Gabon disaster.
When I first met Ngosa, the twinkle in her eye and the animation on her face as we greeted each other left me in no doubt that she is a natural story teller. She describes herself as a girl following her dreams. Apart from the fact that story telling seems to come so naturally to her, Ngosa always knew that story telling is something she wanted to do. She wanted to tell stories about Africa and particularly Zambia from a fresh perspective. Stories that spoke to the people in a non-stereotypical and unbiased way.
We had lunch at Lusaka’s Sugarbush Café, one of Ngosa’s favourite eating place to hear more about the film e18team and what inspired her to make it. Located along Lusaka’s Leopards Hill road the cafe is literally a breath of fresh air. With outdoor seating it provides a great place to unwind away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Being conscious of her health Ngosa had a spinach and feta quiche with a side salad accompanied by Apple, mint and ginger juice. A self-confessed foodie Ngosa loves almost all types of cuisine with seafood being her favourite. Having travelled widely she has sampled a variety of international delicacies Being blessed with a mother that not only cooks well but is able to replicate and perfect many dishes, Ngosa also loves to cook. When she isn’t writing she loves to bake and watch movies. To top off a great meal was a generous slice of homemade apple pie with a hint of cinnamon. A scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream crowned it off.
Having grown up in Zambia, Kenya and the United Kingdom one would rightly say that she had a privileged upbringing. That’s not to say that she’s had everything handed to her on a silver plate or that her life has been a bed of roses. Being the new kid so many times and being picked on for being smart and small helped to make her assertive. After the initial bullying phases passed she easily made friends.
“In 2001 I went to America for the first time to pursue my own version of the American Dream.” She was admitted to the famous and prestigious Stanford University with the intention of exploring her dreams of becoming an actress. She got a communication degree and was only then able to fully appreciate how technology shapes society. “Because of where I was, I was one of the first ‘guinea pigs’ with access to Facebook. I saw the endless possibilities of using social media as a tool to tell the world about oneself. I could see the possibility of not having to rely on global media to tell my story.”
She returned to Zambia in 2006 after a one year stint working in the Silicon Valley. Her work in a mobile technology space wasn’t fulfilling enough for her. Unhappy with where she was at that time she left that job. In 2007 a Stanford friend asked for her help in setting up the Leadership, Entrepreneurship and African Studies curriculum of the African Leadership Academy.
“During the year I did that I learnt a lot about the amazing things that were going on in Africa. It was refreshing to hear about the positive strides made in leadership with regards to women holding positions of leadership. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as one of the world’s first female Head of States and the Rwandan parliament’s predominantly female line-up.”
In pursuit of a relevant program to study she settled on a double Masters with the London School of Economics and University of California in Global Media and Communications. She graduated in 2010 and got an opportunity to go to Switzerland to work for the Global Fund. “The snow and darkness made me feel ‘under the weather’. And when I couldn’t take any more of it I decided to return to Mother Zambia, if anything just for some rays of sunshine.”
March 2011 found her back home exploring what to do and where to direct her creative juices. Her work was made easier because at the time houses like Bongo Hive and Asikana Network were up and running, having done a lot of the groundwork needed for entrepreneurship with innovation.
Ngosa explored how social media could help Africa and what was stopping Africans from telling their story. “Given that international laws and trade agreements impede us from telling our story, why not take advantage of using the internet as a medium of communication? After all there are no rules with regards to what you want to communicate and how you choose to express on the internet.”
Purple Tembo Media is the name she chose for her company. “Purple is my favourite colour and Tembo is Swahili for elephant.” Tembo is also a very common surname in Zambia. The bemba word for elephant is nsofu which she considers difficult to say. “If I was given a choice to be anything else it would be a purple elephant. Who I am and my values and principles are encapsulated in those two words.”
And then Afcon 2012 happened! The daughter of an ardent football supporter, Ngosa basically grew up in the stands. “My father was School footballer of the year in 1972. He was supposed to be part of the ’74 team that made it to Zambia’s first Afcon final but went the academic route after being awarded a scholarship. His love of football didn’t leave him though, and we would all often accompany him to games.”
The 1993 Gabon disaster is a very vivid memory in Ngosa’s mind because it was one of the very rare times she saw her father cry. As the draw for the Afcon matches was being done Ngosa remembers thinking to herself how interesting it would be for Zambia to play in Gabon; and that the only way that would happen is if they made it to the final. At the time it was wishful thinking because the teams to be played on the way were teams that, unlike Zambia, had made it to the World Cup. As the tournament progressed however, the impossible seemed to be within reach. At that point she told herself that if Zambia made it to the final she would make a film about their journey. Not only did Zambia make it to the final but they won the tournament.
“After the celebrations and festivities had died down I realised just how big the task ahead of me was. So the first thing I did was to get dad to set up a meeting with Kalusha Bwalya.” One of Zambia’s most iconic footballing legends, Great Kalu, as he is fondly referred to, was happy to oblige and introduced her to Juan Rodriguez, a Spanish director who had expressed interest in embarking on such a project. A combination of Juan’s expertise and Ngosa’s passion drove them to work towards their common goal with intense energy. The road ahead would prove to be arduous. With next to no financial support hopes of the film materialising began to grow dim. With the help of Samba Yonga the film was shown at a dinner hosted by the then Second lady Dr. Charlotte Scott. In attendance were a number of business houses and corporate executives that would hopefully show interest in sponsoring archival footage needed for the film.
“The essence of the film was to show just how good the ’93 team were, how painful it was to lose them and how awesome it was to rise from the tragedy with the new team and go on to win AFCON. The number 18 resonates throughout the film because 18 lives were lost in Gabon and it took 18 penalties for ‘Chipolopolo’ [the Zambian football team’s name which translates ‘copper bullets’] to win the AFCON title. The title was won 18 years and nine months after the Gabon disaster.”
Jo Pope from Proflight had chartered a plane for the team and was in attendance. “She introduced me to Carl Irwin, the CEO of Zambeef. He saw a screening of the film and immediately ‘got it’. He made available funds for the footage rights and also to show the film around the country for Zambians to see the film for free.” The film is now available for purchase in Zambeef outlets. She loves the fact that an important piece of Zambia’s history has been preserved and Zambian’s are able to own it.
Fast-forward a decade and Ngosa hopes she’ll still have no regrets and will still be creative. The uncertainty of the future is not something she fears but a challenge she looks forward to overcoming or an adventure to be experienced with all the strength and panache of a purple elephant!