Makeni. To this day I have no idea what it means or where it got it’s name from but Makeni was where I grew up. Wikipedia states “The origins of the name Makeni are unclear. However the Livingstone Mail reported that in 1914 Major Boyd Cunningham had a farm called Makeni in Lusaka. A folk etymology has been suggested that the name derives from a Scottish name, McKenny.”Makeni is where I became a man, the memories are endless. It’s where I met my wife, where I learnt how to ride a bike , like I said endless. But this book is about friendships and basketball and the strong bond that sport can shape. This book is about a place called Makeni, the farm area in the southern part of Lusaka the capital of Zambia. This book is about basketball and the friendships that were forged from playing this great game. The friendships that to this day ,despite distance are still strong .
This is no ordinary sports story about winning and losing or about being cheered on by my our parents, actually none of our parents ever came to watch us play and to this day my mum has never seen me take even a jumpshot(Ok, that’s not true, I recently sent out a video on Social Media of me taking and scoring 2 jumpshots J)
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it and to quote the great Nelson Mandela:
Sport has the power to change the world,” it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.
I was born on the 5th of September 1975 in a small town called Luanshya in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia. From what I was told, we moved to Makeni when I was a baby.Obviously I can’t remember all of that and Plot 80 Makeni is the home I grew up in and Makeni has always been my neighbourhood.
Makeni was a close knit community and even though it covered a wide area, it seemed like everybody knew everybody.
My late father, Kelvin Goodwin Mlenga was the first black African editor of the Zambia Daily Mail. He later went on to work for Roan Consolidated Copper Mines and was working for Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines when he died. He was on his way back from a work trip in the Copperbelt. I was 7 years old and it was my birthday but more on that later.
My fathers first wife was a Zimbabwean lady who unfortunately I never met as she died before I was conceived. He had 3 children with her namely Priscilla, Tulani and Bertha. She died in Ndola in 1972, my dad was only 40 years old and my siblings were 8, 4 and 3, so young to lose a mother. My dad met my mum in Ndola and they got married in August 1974. My mum had my brother Clement from a previous relationship, he was 4 years old when my parents got married. They became a blended family and I joined them as I was born on the 5th of September 1975.
At the time I was born we were living at no.2 Mzee Kenyatta road off Ngumbo road in between State House and Longacres shopping Centre. Dad purchased the farm in Makeni and we moved there early 1976.
We all went to the International School of Lusaka except Priscilla who attented the Dominican Convent. It changed its name to St Mary's in her last year of school in 1980 when it became partially government run. At the time she met my dad, she was working as a secretary for Jacks and Partners, a legal firm where the former late President of Zambia, Mr Levy Mwanawasa used to work. But when she got married, she became a full time housewife and stay at home mum. This was the norm in those days so it wasn’t a surprise at all. Working for ZCCM , my dad was the Company Secretary which was a very big position at the time and my dad was known very well by the president at that time Dr Kenneth Kaunda. Because of that he had so many benefits including company cars, housing allowances, fees paid for by the company etc. We used to get driven to school by company drivers. Therefore the unexpected death of my father was a huge loss for us children and my mum, but it also had a significant impact on our financial standing.
It was my birthday and I had turned 7. Our family tradition was to have dinner then sing Happy Birthday, cut the cake and open presents. We waited for my dad to come but he was late and we were getting anxious with every minute that went by. As we waited ,there was a hoot at the gate. One of my brothers opened it and in drove Auntie Stella Mwenso and some of her kids. We called her Auntie Stella because of the huge age gap between us but she was actually our first cousin. Her mother was dad's immediate elder sister. She and her brother Peter were orphaned very young and raised by dad. She was wailing and then my mum and sisters followed suit. My brothers were just shaking their heads in shock. My sister Bertha was screaming holding a picture of my dad to her chest. I was obviously totally confused, a 7 year old who just wanted to eat his birthday cake and open his presents.
The next thing I knew we were all bundled into several cars and taken to the Mwenso’s house in Roma, Lusaka. I only really knew that my dad had dies the day of his funeral. My sister Priscilla took me aside and explained it to me using a Bible story, I can’t remember the exact one but I ended up understanding . However his death only hit home when it came time for the body viewing. My dad was not moving and was in a coffin. His eyes were closed, that is when I finally realized that he was dead and not coming back.
The next few years were a bit of a blur. Mum had to make a plan to make ends meet. She had 5 mouths to feed and educate. My brothers wee shipped off to Mpelembe Secondary School, a ZCCM sponsored school in Kitwe , a town in the Copperbelt. They were given scholarships due to my dad’s high standing and position and this eased the burden of paying school fees at ISL. Priscilla was at University studying psychology and Bertha and I stayed on at ISL.
Before I knew it Bertha moved to Zimbabwe and so did Tulani , he didn’t fit in at Mpelembe. Clement completed his Grade 12 at Mpelembe and I left ISL in 1989.
I always wondered how my friends and I all ended up playing basketball. We all went to different schools (except for Evans Sodala). The other thing that surprised me was that Zambia was not a basketball country. The national sport is soccer and it is the sport that our country has achieved the most in.
I can’t remember what made me fall in love with the game, I was relatively short and I was also short sighted and used to have to play with my glasses. I remember breaking so many pairs of glasses because of basketball. I also remember my Mum having to fork out cash at least twice a year for new sneakers.
I started playing basketball at the International School of Lusaka, I can’t remember the exact year but it was definitely in primary school, round about Grade 5 or Grade 6. ISL as it was called had 4 basketball courts to begin with and another indoor court was built when I was still there. Now this was something, as indoor courts were few and far between in Zambia.
So , that is the brief background of how and when I fell in love with the sport.