The city Kabwe


  • Kabwe is the capital of the Central Province and as its name indicates, this province and hence Kabwe is in the heart of the country.
  • In 2011, about 208,000 people lived here, but today it could be significantly more.
  • Kabwe is the fourth largest city in the state and is only about 140 kilometers away from the capital Lusaka.
  • Due to its location between the capital Lusaka and the industrial region Copperbelt, Kabwe is considered a transit city and as a transit point for travelers heading north or south. The train tracks as well as the Great North Road run through the town.
  • While the city center was built in the colonial era as a rectangular road network with a business area, more and more “satellite townships” emerged around it over time, with a high density of housing and mostly for the poorer sections of the population. As constantly new houses are added, the boundaries between the individual neighborhoods merge more and more. A satellite image of GoogleMaps gives an idea of the city structure.

History and economy

  •  Bis 1964 war der Ort als Broken Hill bekannt – benannt nach einer gleichnamigen Mine in Australien – und wurde im Zuge der Unabhängigkeit Sambias in Kabwe oder Kabwe-Ka Mukuba umbenannt, was “Erz“ oder “Schmelzen“ bedeutet.
  • History and economics – these two issues are closely linked in the case of Kabwe. In the then British colony Northern Rhodesia the finding of a vein of ore in 1902 let to the founding of a settlement, which grew steadily in the following years. Until 1964, the place was known as Broken Hill – named after a mine of the same name in Australia – and was renamed during the independence of Zambia in Kabwe or Kabwe Ka Mukuba, which means “ore” or “melting”. Mainly lead and zinc were mined in Kabwe and to a lesser extent manganese, cadmium and vanadium. In 1994, mining was officially ceased, which had previously been exercised without environmental requirements. This resulted in significant water and soil contamination and even today, elevated lead levels in the blood of the inhabitants can be demonstrated.
  • Already at the beginning of the 20th century, a station was built, which is still in operation today. At that time, it was operated by Rhodesian Railways and the railway workers’ unions (Rhodesia Railway Workers’ Union (RRWU) and Northern Rhodesia African Railway Workers Trade Union (NRARTWU)) based in Kabwe, played a crucial role in Zambian politics. Nowadays the railyways headquarters is in Kabwe.
  • Given the central location and base of the railway union, a rally was held at nearby Mulungushi Rock in 1958 by a splinter group of the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC). It later became the United National Independence Party (UNIP) political party, which successfully led the country’s independence movement. Therefore, the town became known as the “birthplace of independence”.
  • In 1924, one of Africa’s first hydropower plants was built on the nearby Mulungushi River to supply electricity to the settlement and the mine.
  • Since the closure of the mine, the economic situation in Kabwe has deteriorated significantly, but some industries have surived up to now, such as the pharmaceutical, tanning, milling and cotton ginning industries. The Zambian-Chinese textile industry plant Mulungushi Textiles, which has been closed for more than 9 years, was briefly reopened in August 2016, but has since ceased operations.
  • Corn and tobacco are grown commercially in the surroundings of Kabwe.

Environmental problems

  • In 2013, Kabwe was named by the Blacksmith Institute / Pure Earth and Green Cross Switzerland as one of the ten most toxic places in the world. People on the abandoned dumps on Black Mountain are still trying to extract ore residues – illegally and often barefoot, without protective clothing and without professional tools.
  • Despite initiatives by the World Bank, NGOs and the government, high concentrations of copper, zinc and lead in soil, water and dust are still to be found today and thousands of inhabitants are suffering from the effects.
  • Especially lead can have serious consequences, as it can accumulate in the body and lead to chronic poisoning. The metal is detectable in particularly high concentrations mainly in the bodies of children, as they have a lot of contact with the ground while playing. Research revealed that children in Kabwe have on average six to twelve times higher levels of lead in their blood than peers in industrialized countries – with negative consequences for the children’s development, such as the brain and other organs.