Making new mine towns and reviving old ones in Africa’s Copperbelt

Researcher: Patience Mususa

Project started in 2015

What are the urban, planning and settlement dynamics involved in the formation and revival of industrial towns in Africa? What impact do market fluctuations in industry have on these processes? My research project explores these questions by a focus on Africa’s Copperbelt, located in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and follows the formation and revival of copper mining towns.

Drawing for the first two years on ethnographic research in Zambia’s North Western Province where new copper mines are being developed, in comparative perspective to the older mining region, Copperbelt Province, where I have already conducted long term ethnographic work for my PhD, I explore the individual narratives and experiences of people, including mine workers, making home and planning settlement in these areas. In the latter two years of my project, I compare these processes to those of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s copper mining region, Katanga Province.

The project is contextualised within the recent history of the Copperbelt and seeks to link the micro processes of settlement and planning to wider political economic trends of spatial zoning, planning regulations, infrastructural development and service delivery. Like earlier discussions in the region on the stabilisation of the labour force, settlement, identity and belonging conducted by the Manchester School, I argue that a contemporary study of mine settlement provides an empirical background to understanding more recent processes of urbanisation in Africa. It also sheds light on community, mining and state relations; insight into local perceptions of the stability of new large-scale investments like in mining and the grounded realities of prevailing socio-political and economic trends. The overall aim of the project is to contribute to an understanding of industrial led urbanization and its attendant planning challenges.

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