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date: 10 December 2022

The Copperbelt of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congolocked

The Copperbelt of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congolocked

  • Iva PešaIva PešaDepartment of History, University of Groningen

Summary

The Central African Copperbelt, a region which straddles the boundary between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, holds exceptionally rich and high-grade copper deposits. These deposits have been worked from as early as the 6th century ce. Still, the commencement of large-scale industrial resource extraction at the start of the 20th century, spurred by imperial rivalry between Belgian and British interests, initiated fundamental processes of change. The Copperbelt urbanized rapidly, as the mines attracted thousands of migrant workers from hundreds of miles away. The social, cultural, economic, and political lives of these new urbanites have attracted much attention from colonial administrators and mining officials, as well as from generations of social scientists and historians. These observers have tended to depict the Copperbelt’s history in terms of stark dichotomies, as part of a transition from rural to urban; from subsistence agriculture to industrial wage labor; from extended kinship to nuclear families; or even from “tradition” to “modernity.” The protracted economic crisis which held the Copperbelt in its sway between 1975 and 2000 painfully revealed the boom-and-bust nature of copper mining. This period of “decline” made scholars question earlier modernization frameworks. Examples showing how kinship ties have been creatively reworked, how gender roles have constantly been subject to negotiation, and how economic precarity was part of urban life throughout the 20th century, suggest that Copperbelt scholarship should abandon narratives of “transformation” and exceptionalism. The Central African Copperbelt, instead, exemplifies African history’s rich complexity.

Subjects

  • Central Africa
  • Political History
  • Social History
  • Southern Africa

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