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Notes on the Geography of Zambia: Luanshya

Luanshya was established about 1930 as the company town for the Roan Antelope copper mine.

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Even residents of Luanshya often don't recognize this monument made of copper slabs (it's not solid but, rather, composed of four separate slabs with an open space between them). It's hard to get to because it's on the mine premises, which are guarded. See the plaque in front of the base?

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The obligatory story is that Collier, a prospector working for the British South Africa Company, shot a roan antelope which fell on rocks whose greenish color indicated copper. Maybe so. Collier was following in the footsteps (and worked for the same British South Africa Company) as Frederick Russell Burnham, an American who came near here in 1895 and noticed copper. He didn't make money from the discovery, in part because operations didn't begin for another 25 years, but don't feel too bad for him: in 1923 he discovered oil in California's Dominguez Hills and was soon as rich as a Saudi prince.

Commercial production at Roan Antelope began in 1931 under the control of the Rhodesian Selection Trust, a British company controlled by Chester Beatty, an American engineer who invested heavily here but never set foot in Northern Rhodesia. The boom years came 15 years later, when sterling in 1949 was devalued from $4.02 to $2.80. As Ronald Prain, the chairman of the Trust Group, told Toronto's Empire Club of Canada in 1964, "The Copperbelt was instantly transformed from an interesting exercise in the pioneering of heavy industry in a backward country into an economic asset meriting substantial expansion... it became clear that Northern Rhodesia was no longer a poor and backward dependency but a worthy partner for its relatively more developed and sophisticated neighbour, Southern Rhodesia."

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Here's the main entrance today, on Independence (formerly Acacia) Avenue. Why Acacia? The streets of the European section of the municipality were gridded, and streets oriented in this direction were originally named A, B, C, D, and so forth. The names were then prettified to Acacia, Bougainvillea, Casuarina, Datura, and Eucalyptus. In the other direction, the streets were numbered and remain so.

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Maybe you're brave enough to take pictures despite the warnings of the mine police acting on orders from the mine owners, presently the China Nonferrous Metals Corporation. Not me: just this snap of the administration building.

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Here's the property from a distance, with the smelter and concentrator. As the deposit here was played out, nearby sources were developed, with ore delivered by miles-long conveyors.

It's been a while since anybody put much money into the place. The buildings shown here are those built by Beatty's Selection Trust, which was wiped out after Independence. The company's CEO later wrote, "The owners of the Zambian copper mines, representing largely British, South African and American interests, were 'invited' to sell 51 per cent of their shares to the government" (Ronald Prain, Copper: the Anatomy of an Industry), 1975, p. 225). The mine's been privatized at least twice since then.

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Here's one of those distant sources, a shaft shut down by 2015, though apparently not for lack of ore. The gory or at least obscure details of its cycles of nationalization and privatization are traced by Jan-Bart Gewald and Sebastiaan Soeters in "African Miners and Shape-Shifting Capital Flight: The Case of Luanshya/Baluba," a chapter in Alastair Fraser's and Miles Larmer's Zambia, Mining, and Neoliberalism, 2010.

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Meanwhile there was the adjoining town. It consisted of two townships, one called the municipality, the other simply "the compound," probably from the fact that it was gated and signed "private property." The municipality was itself divided into a European township and, across the tracks an area called "the location," which was reserved for Africans. The track, which ran to Ndola, was in operation by 1928. It lasted until sometime about 2010.

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Was this the railway station? That's where I'm putting my money.

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In a private letter, a colonial officer named Spencer Reeve wrote in 1929 that "Roan Antelope... is going to be an enormous place. The town is being laid out on Bulawayo lines and will be bigger than that. Seventeen avenues have already been surveyed" (Gewald and Soeters, pp. 160-161).

Reeve was wrong: Luanshya never outgrew Bulawayo, but by 1930 the mine payroll did include 994 Europeans and 4,894 Africans. Twenty-five years later, in the boom years after the sterling devaluation, the mine had about 1,500 European employees and 10,000 African ones. They would not have dared to shop in this, the European shopping area.

As for the name Buntungwa? It used to be Bougainvillea.

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Across the street.

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A European bungalow.

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The European hospital grounds, at Casuarina and Sixth.

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The mine provided a recreation club, including these grounds for the Roan Antelope African Football Club. The team still plays at a nearby stadium, but the team is now called the Roan United Football Club. The "united" refers to the merger in 1961 of the RAAFC, which was black, with the Roan Antelope Callies Football Club, which was white.

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The football grounds were abandoned by 2015, but the mine's swimming pool still operated. (It was closed for lunch when this picture was taken.)

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Make out the four letters? RAGC: any ideas?

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The Roan Antelope Golf Club.

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This is the Second Class Shopping Center: yes, that's the formal as well as the colloquial name. The streets here were named Rhodes, Jameson, and Livingstone (crossing King, York, and Kent) but the merchants were all Indian. They were neatly separated from the European town by the railway track, and they served the "location." That was the name of the African part of the municipality.

Hortense Powdermaker, an American anthropologist who spent a sabbatical here in 1953-4, recalled that European employees of the mine "were not allowed to entertain Africans in their homes...and, at the same time, no anthropologist or any other white person would have been permitted to live in the African section...." (Friends and Strangers, 1966, p. 246). Elsewhere, she reported that when she was in Luansha the "location" had about 10,000 African residents, while the European town had a thousand. There were also 500 to 600 Asians, by which she meant the Indians who ran these shops, along with their families (Copper Town, 1962).

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Despite the plaster, it looks a lot like a movie set for a Western. You can hear the spurs as the gunfighters walk the walk.

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The "compound," which was on the other side of the mine, had 30,000 residents. It also had this company-run hospital, now taken over by the government.

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Nearby, the mining company runs its own clinics.

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For cases beyond medical science, there's religion, here offered in many denominations.

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Each group has its own space, in this case the Roan Pentecostal Assembly.

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Worker housing in the "compound," which Powdermaker said had a population of 30,000--mineworkers and their families, almost all African. The dust jacket of Copper Town shows an early form of worker's houses built with the traditional circular floorplan, though with a lean-to on one side. The houses were brick, with concrete floors and metal roofs, but they had no water supply or electricity. Powdermaker reported that these were marked for demolition and replacement (Copper Town, p. 5).

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Streets in this part of the "compound" were laid out in a tidy grid, and trees have grown up where Powdermaker saw none. The paving, on the other hand, is absolutely shot.

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Some things endure, including this busy mill producing the corn meal sold ubiquitously across Zambia.


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