What Zambia lost – The mines social welfare infrastructure

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Chingola roundabout

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.


25 Responses to What Zambia lost – The mines social welfare infrastructure

  1. Nostalgia filled with lots of truth, development was indeed lost with independence for rather than the country building on what was already availing everything started disintegrating and leadership started moving in reverse gear! The status tried to hold on while a few pockets of expatriate managers lingered around but as their exodus gained momentum so did the curse of mismanagement take root. The later generations may read through the article as if it were fiction and not believe if told that at the time the Zambian economy was doing much better than most countries in Asia i.e. the Korea’s.

    March 30, 2017 at 6:06 am

  2. Looking at the “The welcome to Chingola” sign, the beautiful treees in the background, the well maintained lawns, grounds, and beautifully marked roads, just brought tears to my eyes. How is that African countries deteriorated so much after gaining political independence? And we continue to blame colonialism…..please! Those who attended King George thr Sixth high school in in the 60’s and 70’s in Kabwe will tell you what a school we had……Go and see this school now called Kabwe secondary school. This school was on par or even betther than the prestigious schools anywhere in the civilized western world…to day it look like a school in a war torn country like Somalia. Until a black man stops indiscrinimate looting of meagre resources meant for development, we will not get anywhere. Until the blackman stops political, human right abuses and corruption, we will not get anywhere. Meanwhile viva ICC and long live ICC in Zambia and indeed in most of the corrupt countries.

    March 30, 2017 at 7:49 am

  3. Excellent article.My take is we have retrogessed.When i visit Lusaka Club,Roan tennis club,Mufulira et where i played tennis as junior 40 etc after almost 30 years ago,it like viewing a dead body.When went to Kaboys(Kabulonga school for boys) where u did my secondary,it is the same.The only thing we have achieved as a nation is dirty,corruption,illiteracy and lack of respect for the rule of law.Lungu,HH and company who are in my generation better stop fighting and think about the legacy they will leave for our children! We should all be seem shameful as a generation as mediocrity and dishonesty has enveloped us.

    March 30, 2017 at 9:57 am

  4. This writer must be a very good historian but he has disappointed me and most knowledgeable readers.He knows that privatization of mines and other organisations was handled by HH.Let HH let us know how he used to swiping his pen.Just like He loves power,he was the one heading the distruction of these facilities .He likes shouldering blame on others,let him tell us his role in the process.He must give convincing strong reasons than roaring like a lion when asked over this issue.HH is very good at articulating issues.He must come clear on this one.Let him not leave this issue to Dr Proud ,some grade 2 chap full of nothing ash grey jelly in his head..

    March 30, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    • HH never privatized the mines. For how long will this stupid lie continue hibernating in dull minds of people like Chintu…… The government of the day decided to priatized the mines, some parastatals, sold houses to sitting tenants. HH was just one of the individuals that were brought in to assist the government…he wasnt even heading the privatisation team. Some politicians that made the decision to privatize are still alive…….go ask why they decided to privatize. In actual fact the mines were costing the tax payers millions of dollars just to run them. Production had fallen from almost a million tons to below 300000 tons at the time of privatization. The government had to literally go down on its knees to beg the private investors to unshackle the burden (mines} from its neck. Leave HH out of it, he was just a junior like Norman Mbazima in the team No one talks about the other members of the team. HH would have faced jail time long time ago if he had stolen or defrauded the government during privatization.

      March 31, 2017 at 8:07 am

  5. chintu – whatever if you are not so clear about privatisation shutup,HH never sold the mines,the article is trying to educate and inform ninnies like you who fail to acknowledge historical facts that occurred not more than 25 years ago,the degradation,retardation and rot started just after independence,IMF has never and will never be a good visitor at our front door,tell your grandchildren if you’ll be there of ukukongola k10 kuchibanda,then chaisaku pinda umwana! History repeats itself yet we never learn..

    March 30, 2017 at 11:31 pm

  6. Well wriiten. You must be a lecturer of history at the university of zambia.

    March 31, 2017 at 4:54 am

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    March 31, 2017 at 4:40 pm

  8. In Luanshya we had Kafubu Stadium that groomed the best in Zambian football under Bennie Evans when Antonius Castella was team captain:- Kenny Banda, Ginger Pensulo, Willy ‘Whichway’ Chifita, Borniface Simutowe, Sandy Kaposa, Emmanuel Mwape, Dayson Mugala, Fordson Kambole,etc.
    So indeed, in a feat of collective madness, all the infrastructure that existed was destroyed under poor and visionless national leadership by Chiluba. Now people are yearning for the ‘good old days’. Give me a break!

    April 1, 2017 at 8:11 am

  9. I attended my primary education at the then Ross Avenue Primary School in Mufulira. Then went further to Basotho Secondary School (also in Mufulira) before joining Kamwala Secondary School in Lusaka, which had just abandoned its name of Prince Phillips High School. I was a boarding school student. I achieved and had to learn a lot at this institutions with a mixture of races and different cultures. I headed the Kamwala Review Magazine after I was asked to take the editing over by (now UK based Dr. Anthony Kawesha). At the same time I won different prizes with my science projects through JETS. One project called The Floating Bubbles has now industrial adoption in form of lamps with millions of world sales. My last visit to Mufulira and to Lusaka made me cry. Everything has gone worse. Mufulira and Lusaka were paradises with cleaness and green. Those old days entering Lusaka was like visiting a developed country. Those green grasses at my former primary and secondary and the university of Zambia, which I also attended before coming to Europe have vanished. Indeed as a child going to Shinde Stadium to watch Mufulira Wanderers was more than seating before a television. Sports was encouraged and all the youths had something to do. This is not nostalgia but a sad story. Because we failed to develop from where the colonialist had left us. In fact the word of corruption after more than 40 years of independence would have disappeared from Zambia’s vocabulary. I am glad that I am able to mention some life in Mufulira in my latest book THE DEATH OF COMRADE……….. (a best seller). Dr. B. Mwansa Kapika.

    Dr. B . Mwansa Kapika
    April 1, 2017 at 8:53 am

  10. Good article. However, I hope there will be part 2 on how do we move forward to reclaim and surpass the former glory. Lamentations alone will not help.

    April 3, 2017 at 1:37 am

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