THE COPPERBELT AND THE NORTHWEST

The northwest of Zambia includes the Copperbelt, the source of the Zambezi River at Kalene Hill, the source of the Kafue River northwest of Chililabombwe, Lukanga Swamps and the north of Kafue National Park.

The Copperbelt is littered with open-pit mines and slag piles.  It is not an environmentally friendly place but as the Kafue River has its source within the Copperbelt, running past several mines the Zambia Environmental Agency keeps a close watch on all possible pollution.  The Kafue River is the lifeline for many societies which live along it, the Kafue National Park, the Kafue Flats, finally draining into the Zambezi River in Lower Zambezi.  The health of the river is very important.

Copper mining is Zambia’s main economic sector and, because of this, the roads and towns are very busy.  Apart from copper, the mines extract cobalt.  There is also small-scale gemstone mining – emeralds, amethysts, garnets, aquamarines and tourmaline.

I have taken a close look at Kitwe and Ndola.  These are the two largest towns in the region and offer some excellent recreation facilities.  Anyone travelling to the Copperbelt for business or pleasure can find a relaxing way to occupy a day or two in or around both towns.

 
Map

This map does not show all the roads, just those most in use.  The other roads between towns are likely to be dirt roads and in questionable condition.  Also, as you can see, there are a lot of rivers and the roads sometimes do not have bridges over them.  The larger rivers will have pontoons, but sometimes people and vehicles just have to wait until the river goes down.  All the roads shown have no pontoons except for the one going south from Kasempa which has a pontoon over the Lunga River and then another over the Kafue at Lubungu.

The road between Chingola and Solwezi was very bad during the rainy season 2016-2017 but it is being redone.

Getting There

By Air:  Scheduled flights run between Lusaka and Ndola, Kitwe and Solwezi.

By Road: Lusaka-Ndola is 320 km.  If you are travelling from further afield and need to stop en route, there are a few good places to stay.

Nsobe, 60 km from Ndola, is a Game Farm with chalets and camping.  Ibis Gardens is 75 km from Lusaka with rooms.  Fringilla Lodge, 50 km from Lusaka, has rooms and small chalets.

Buses run between all the major towns and from Lusaka.

Trains are not recommended.

The Wild Stuff

Being an industrial area there is not a lot of wildlife around.  Three places are worth mentioning.

Chembe Bird Sanctuary is along the road west of Kalalushi.  It is an area of bush on a dam.  There are thought to be over 300 bird species.  When I visited a couple of years ago, it needed a bit of TLC but I can imagine it could make a good spot for a sundowner or a picnic.  It is run by ZamParks so those fees are payable.

Rokana Sailing Club is on Mopane Copper Mines land.  Wildlife has been introduced into the area – impala, zebra and puku.  Visitors are welcome but there is a fee for non-members.  It is east of Kitwe.

Chinfunshi is a chimpanzee orphanage, 70 km northwest of Chingola.  120 orphaned chimpanzees (which do not exist naturally in Zambia) have been rescued and given a new life in large enclosures along the Kafue River.  The Trust which runs the orphanage stress that it is not a tourist destination but visitors are welcome if you contact them beforehand.  Chimfunshi

Football

There are many football teams and leagues in Zambia with many fans.  Zambians follow their teams when they play away, so I thought it worthwhile to have a look at the Premier Division.  The Premier Division Football in Zambia is known as the MTN Super League.  There are 20 teams altogether, with 8 of them based in the Copperbelt, 1 in Solwezi and 1 in Kabwe.

Outside the Copperbelt there are 7 teams in Lusaka – Red Arrows, Green Buffaloes, Lusaka Dynamos, City of Lusaka, NAPSA Stars, ZANACO and Nkwazi.

The three other teams are Nakambala Leopards in Mazabuka, Green Eagles in Choma and Real Nakonde in Nakonde.

It is off-season as I write this and I can see that 5 of these teams have been relegated – Kabwe Warriors, Nchanga Rangers, Mufulira Wanderers, Konkola Blades, Real Nakonde and City of Lusaka.  I can’t find out which teams will replace these ones.  I will update my information as soon as the league starts again … whenever that is … I assume at the end of the rains, maybe April … it is not clear.  (Can you tell that I don’t follow football?)

My point in doing this is that Zambians are football mad and this is a big part of our domestic tourism as Zambians travel to watch their favourite team.  Any visitor to Zambia who likes football should keep an eye open for a local match – Zambian passion at its height and I have never heard of any violence at matches. I am sure it is a lot of fun.

Golf

Golf is a popular sport in Zambia.  Our first President, Kenneth Kaunda, is a keen golfer and enthused the Zambian people.  Even when the economy was not good, Zambians kept many courses functioning even though they are extremely costly to maintain.

There are six golf courses in the Copperbelt.

The courses at Ndola, Kitwe (Nkana Golf Club), Chingola (Nchanga Golf Club) and Mufulira are 18-hole; Chibuluma in Kalulushi and Konkola in Chililabombwe are 9-hole.  They all have greens.  (Some courses in Zambia have ‘browns’, ie dirt, which  have to be raked carefully before putting the last few shots.)

History

I think you might need a cup of coffee …

The Copperbelt is a cosmopolitan region with people from all over the country living there now, having come to work in the mines.  It is, though, the original home of the Lamba people who, it is thought, arrived from the north in the 1600s.  The Lamba knew how to dig up and smelt the copper long before the Europeans arrived on the scene.  Smelting copper in those days was a job for the dry season whereas farming was done during the rains.  The whole family was involved in digging up the rocks; the smelting was done by experienced artisans who knew the secrets of how to extract the copper from the rock.  The smelting process was steeped in magic and mystery, often done at night.

The copper was often formed into X shapes and was used as a currency throughout south-central Africa.  Traders arrived from the east or west coast with cloth and other items for sale which they exchanged for the copper.  The copper was used for jewelry, tools and artwork.

When the Europeans arrived to prospect for minerals, they used the old mine workings as an indication of the presence of copper.  At the time the land was wild, there was little development except for the few villages dotted around the landscape.

The first mine to be ‘refound’ was Roan Antelope Mine.  The story of Roan Antelope Mine near present-day Luanshya starts with William Collier, an Englishman who had left his home when he was 18 years old, arriving in Cape Town.  He moved around a lot in Southern Africa, and in 1902, at the age of 32, he was sent by the Northern Copper Company to the area we now know as Ndola and Luanshya to prospect for minerals.  This area at the time was largely unmapped.

William Collier asked an old man to show him any ancient mine workings that he knew of.  Guided by the old man, walking through the bush, William Collier noticed a roan antelope standing in a clearing.  He shot it.  The roan had fallen on a patch of grey shale which William Collier recognised as partly malachite.  He knew then that there was copper in the area.

There is a memorial to William Collier near Luanshya.  It is not on the exact spot where he shot the roan as this is now a mine, but it is nearby.

Although many mining sites were found in the Copperbelt in the early 1900s, they were not developed immediately.  The Katanga Mines in the north in Belgium Congo (DRC) were much easier to work.  The mines in the Copperbelt remained largely ignored.

By the 1920s, after the First World War, Britain needed copper.  At the time it was dependent on copper from America.  The British South Africa Company (BSAC) had their contract with the British Government end in 1924 and Northern Rhodesia became a Protectorate.  It was decided to allocate vast tracts of the land for mineral exploration. Southern Rhodesia which had gold mines could be exploited by individuals and small companies; the copper mines needed big money.  After much company/financial wheelie dealing, by 1928 two powerful companies controlled the mining in the Copperbelt – Rhodesian Anglo American Corporation which owned Nkana, Bwana Mkubwa and Nchanga, and The Selection Trust which owned Roan Antelope and Mufulira mines.

Mining started in earnest bringing in a motley assortment of men, not only from around Northern Rhodesia but from around the world.

Malaria, Blackwater Fever and Dysentry were killing the workers at the start of mining operations.  The owners needed help – they needed to keep their workers healthy to work.

The Ross Institute from England was asked to help.  Malcolm Watson, Director of Tropical Hygiene came to Northern Rhodesia on behalf of the Ross Institute.  On buying his railway ticket at Cape Town for Ndola, the booking clerk said:

No need to get a return ticket.  You won’t come back – no-one does!

But Malcom Watson did return and he solved the problem of malaria by draining all marshy or swampy areas.  The mosquitoes could not breed. The Copperbelt was free of mosquitoes, the workers free of malaria.

At the end of the Second World War in 1945 there was again a surge in demand for copper.  The mines were working overtime to meet this demand.  At the time (late 1940s) each copper mine had its own coal-fired power station.  The coal came from Wankie (Hwange) Colliery in Southern Rhodesia by train.  But there were big demands for coal from other power stations throughout the two Rhodesias.  The mining companies had a huge problem – no power, no copper.   The companies joined forces by linking their power lines into one grid but it was still not enough power for them to keep up production.

The solution was to cut down all the forests around the mines!  Many of the coal-fired power stations were converted to use wood.  Between 1947 and 1956 much of the power for the mines was produced from burning the trees from forests.  It is estimated that 12,000 ha of forests were cleared each year, all the trees being cut by axe and the trees dragged for miles.  To put 12,000 ha into perspective – this is about the size of Kitwe today.

As the forests were cleared, the distance the logs had to be transported increased, hence the cost also increased.  Already burning trees was much more expensive than burning coal and the mining companies knew they could not continue.  Fortunately for our forests, a hydro-electric power plant in the Belgium Congo (now DRC) came on line in 1957 and the Copperbelt mines were linked to this.  Then Kariba dam too was commissioned in 1959.  The power problem came to an end.

The forests all around the Copperbelt were no more.  They would take 30-50 years to regenerate.

In the 1960s pine and eucalyptus trees were planted all around Kitwe and the Copperbelt.  These exotics were to be used for timber for the mines and industry.  They were also used for firewood

You will see many of these forests along the road between Ndola and Kitwe.

 

To find out more information about Kitwe, click on the photograph of downtown Kitwe.

To find out more information on Ndola click on the photo of downtown Ndola