Kabwe is the capital of the Zambian Central Province with a population estimated at 210,000. Formerly named Broken Hill, it was founded when the Broken Hill lead and zinc deposits were discovered in 1902. Kabwe also has a claim to being the birthplace of Zambian politics.
Broken Hill Mine and its legacy of pollution
The name Kabwe
or Kabwe-Ka Mukuba
means 'ore' or 'smelting' but the European/Australian prospectors named it after a similar mine in Broken Hill, New South Wales
, Australia. The mine became the largest in the country until overtaken in the early 1930s by larger copper mining complexes on the Copperbelt
. Apart from lead and zinc it also produced silver
and heavy metals such as cadmium
, and titanium
in smaller quantities.
In 1921 a human fossil (a skull) called Broken Hill Man or Rhodesian Man (classified as Homo rhodesiensis or Homo heidelbergensis) was found in the mine.
The mine, which occupies a 2.5 km² site just 1 km south-west of the town centre, is now closed but metals are still extracted from old tailings. A study by the Blacksmith Institute found Kabwe to be one of the ten worst polluted places in the world due mostly to heavy metal (mostly zinc and lead) tailings making their way into the local water supply.
Headquarters of Zambia Railways
The first railway in the country, operated by Rhodesian Railways
(when the territory was administered as North-Western Rhodesia
and North-Eastern Rhodesia
) reached the Broken Hill mine as early as 1906, and the town became the northern base for the railway, which was the second biggest employer after the mining
industry. A locomotive maintenance facility was constructed there. In 1909 the railway reached Ndola
in what was to become the Copperbelt
in the late 1920s.
The railway workers' unions played a large role in politics of the country. In racially-segregated colonial times before Africans had the vote, the town was the seat of Roy Welensky, leader of the powerful European Railway Workers Union (ERWU), who became Prime Minister of the ill-fated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which was opposed by the Northern Rhodesia Railway Trade Union (the black Africans' union) led by Dixon Konkola and also based in Kabwe.
Today the town is the headquarters of Zambia Railways but employment levels on the railway have been heavily cut back.
Kabwe's role in Zambia's independence
Reflecting Kabwe's central location and railway union base, it was chosen as the site for a rally held on October 26, 1958 at Mulungushi Rock
north of the city by the Kaunda
breakaway group from the Zambian African National Congress
. Later, they founded the political party UNIP
which led the successful independence movement and continued to hold conferences at Mulungushi Rock, which became known as the 'birthplace of independence' in Zambia.
The name was changed to Kabwe in 1966
, shortly after independence. As well as being on the main Lusaka
railway line it lies on the Great North Road
. To the east of the city are the hydro-electric power stations of the Mulungushi Dam
, Mita Hills Dam
and Lunsemfwa Falls
, built to power the mine and town.
Industries and agriculture
Closure of the mine led to economic decline for Kabwe. It has a number of manufacturing
industries including the Zambia-China Mulungushi Textiles
plant established with Chinese investment in the 1980s, but after suffering large losses this plant has closed (temporarily according to management) at the beginning of 2007.
Other industries include pharmaceuticals, milling and cotton ginning, and leather tanning.
Commercial farming areas surround the city about 10 km from the centre, and the road and rail links provide ready access to markets of the Copperbelt and Lusaka.
To the east and west of Kabwe are areas with good but so-far undeveloped tourist potential, advantaged by Kabwe's central location and proximity to Lusaka and its international airport:,
- Lukanga Swamp, 50 km west, with a wildlife area (currently a Game Management Area) on the other side of the Kafue River, 120 km from Kabwe — but road access is very poor.
- Mulungushi River & Lunsemfwa River valleys, including Lunsemfwa Wonder Gorge: these two rivers flow into the western end of the Luangwa Rift Valley just over 50 km south-east of Kabwe, and just south of the Mulungushi Dam and lake which offers good boating and game fishing activities. The valleys are very scenic wilderness with good wildlife potential. Again, there is no proper road access to the area.
- Chifunkunya Hills — 150 km east, a wilderness area of rugged granite mountains rising 1000 m above the Luangwa Valley, just to the north-west of the confluence of the Lunsemfwa and Lukusashi Rivers, with no road access.
Institutions and attractions
- Mulungushi Rock of Authority, north of the city
- Kabwe Warriors football club, one of the top three teams in the country
- Bwacha House National Monument: Number E1376 Musuku Road, Bwacha Township, where on 8th March, 1958 Kenneth Kaunda was elected President of the Zambian African National Congress
- Big Tree National Monument: a fig tree with a 50 m wide canopy on the east side of Broadway, which served as a meeting place on many occasions during the early years of the town's history
- Broken Hill Man memorial at Kabwe municipal offices
- Zambia National Service Training School
- Chindwin Barracks and Kohima Barracks (Zambian Defence Force)
- Kwame Nkrumah Teachers Training College
- Mukobeko Trades Training Institute
- National Fire Fighting Services Training School
- Kabwe golf course
- Mulungushi Boat Club, Mulungushi Dam
- Terracarta/International Travel Maps, Vancouver Canada: "Zambia, 2nd edition", 2000.