By Brian Mulenga
In the 1950s, after a succession of strikes and confrontations, the mining giants running mines in the then Northern Rhodesia decided to improve working conditions for miners to ensure peace in the mine townships.
First of all, a generous bonus scheme so miners earned a very hefty bonus cheque which in some years was as large as the miners’ annual income (1956, 1957).
Second, provide some welfare and entertainment to ensure the miners did not have too much time on their hands.
The Mines developed a network of social infrastructure that included housing, education, health and leisure. The Mine Township Managers achieved larger than life status and were treated like feudal lords or even kings in their fiefs the African Mine Townships.
These African Mine Townships were very large and towns like Nkana, Mufulira, Luanshya and Chingola had two even three mine townships. By the early 1950s, a township like Kantanshi had over 2000 houses and a population of 20,000. An African Mine Township Manager presided over a very large and diverse population. The population in the townships was regulated and controlled and the African Mine Township Manager Manager presided over facilities like education, health, sanitation, maintenance and even distribution of food. There was even a system called feeding where the mine distributed food to the wives of the miners consisting of meat and mealie meal.
The African Township Manger knew who lived in his townships because every miner had a mine number and had to register a wife and his children and dependants. Being on this register meant you had access to health, welfare and entertainment amenities. Every family member knew this mine number.
The African Township Managers were well known and had a unique status in both the White and African communities. For the whites, he provided essential business contracts and was therefore well treated by the local white business class. These contracts included providing foods for the miners, sanitation services, wire fencing in the Mining Townships, maintaining street lighting and repairing roads and houses and were very lucrative.
The Mine Townships were as follows: –
Kitwe – Chamboli, Wusakile, Ndeke, Mindolo and Miseshi
Mufulira – Kantanshi, Butondo and Kankoyo
Luanshya – Roan and Mpatamatu
Chingola – Nchanga and Kabundi
Chililabombwe – Lubengele and Konkola
Kabwe – Chowa and Kasanda
Kalulushi – Kalulushi and Chibuluma
It was therefore not surprising some of the African Township Managers became well known and their names attached to significant infrastructure. Chingola had a Mr Gabbitas, Chililabombwe had Mr. Mackay, Kitwe had a Mr Scrivener. They prided themselves on the extensive welfare facilities they built up to keep the workers entertained with each mine having an extensive system of clinics, sports clubs and taverns attached to their mine townships.
In the late 1950s, the mines started having soccer teams and these teams became major entertainment at the weekend for the miners and the mine management. The games were well attended by the white mine managers and their staff closely following the teams. It was said production rose and fell with the performance of the teams. Scrivener at Nkana mine was the first to get permission to build a good stadium and he proceeded to build one in Wusakile right next to the mine with the towering slag heaps providing a backdrop. Thereafter mines right across the Copperbelt competed as to who would build the biggest and best stadium culminating in the very large Mackay stadium in Konkola built by the Township Manager a Mr. Mackay and far larger than the needs of the modest population of then Bancroft Mine and its Konkola and Lubengele townships.
Mufulira had two stadiums in the Mine townships, Harry Hart in the western Mufulira township of Butondo and Shinde in Kantanshi township. Shinde was built just like Scrivener, right next to the Mine and in Mufulira instead of the massive slag heaps, the huge copper smelter was the backdrop. There were also numerous smaller stadiums in the townships with Mindolo in Kitwe having Miseshi stadium, Chamboli having Mogadishu, Lubengele in Chililabombwe having Lubengele Stadium and so on.
After Zambia became independent, the mines spent even more on these facilities. The stadiums were at the time amongst the best in Africa and at the height of their pomp and splendour stadiums like Scrivener Stadium in Kitwe could host an international friendly between Zambia and Cuba in 1976 under floodlights. Even the small township stadiums were centres for recreation with the elders firmly at the bar drinking Mosi or Chibuku and the youth participating in some sport.
I remember many trips into townships like Chamboli or Lubengele where these neat, well maintained little stadiums were like little pristine jewels deep in the townships. You drove into a small township like Miseshi in Kitwe or Lubengele in Chililabombwe and found this beautifully maintained little miniature stadium with a sports club attached to it and a green, level pitch. After watching the soccer game, you could retire into the clubhouse for a game of darts and drink a gin and tonic (for my Dad) or Fanta (for me) in the well-maintained bar and then go and watch some young boys training in the well-equipped boxing gym and others playing chess and table tennis.
In places like Mufulira you also had a basketball court, volleyball court and tennis courts attached. Some of the best tennis players in Zambia came from the tennis courts of Chawama Hall with David Kasanda and the Kapungwe brothers becoming nationally renowned and even travelling around Africa holding high the flag of Zambia and representing Mufulira town and Kantanshi township in particular.
In 2017 most of this remarkable welfare infrastructure lies in ruins. The stadiums dusty and vandalised, the welfare halls turned into either bars or churches, the sports clubs run down and dilapidated. It is an embarrassing fact that any mining town in 1957 or 1977 had better maintained social welfare and youth facilities than in 2017.
If we really have been developing since 1964 the state of the mine townships and their associated welfare facilities is a real contradiction. On this basis alone Zambia is far worse than it was 40 years ago.
There are no sports stars coming from the mine townships no tennis players, no chess geniuses, no badminton and table tennis virtuosos and even the youth football leagues of that era do not exist. The many soccer pitches that dotted townships in those days have been illegally allocated as plots and covered with hideous structures while the sports clubs and stadiums alike are wasting away.