Sources for the History of the Copperbelt

This guide provides an annotated list of archival sources for the colonial and post-colonial history of the Central African Copperbelt. Sources are divided into several broad categories: state archives, company archives, trade union archives, missionary archives, international organisations, personal archive collections, newspapers, photographs and films.

This is not an exhaustive list and I hope to keep adding to it. If you have any additions, more up-to-date information about any archive, or spot any errors then please get in touch via email (duncanmoneyhistory ‘at’ or via Twitter (@mininghistory)

State and Government Archives

There is not a clear division between company and state archives because the territories that came to be known as DR Congo and Zambia were both seized by private entities. The Congo Free State, as it was known from 1885 to 1908, was controlled by Belgium’s King Leopold II, not the Belgian state, and the administration of Katanga was handed over to a concession company, Compagnie du Katanga, subsequently renamed Comité Special du Katanga (CSK). Northern Rhodesia was colonized by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) that annexed territory on behalf of Britain.

This had consequences for the kind of sources that are available as the companies, concerned with turning a profit, ran relatively threadbare administrations. Nothing was done to preserve the early documents of the Congo Free State and most were destroyed before the territory was taken over by the Belgian state in 1908 following revelations of mass atrocities.

Under Belgian rule, records were sent to Brussels to be preserved or destroyed and it was not until 1947 that an archive was established in Léopoldville (Kinshasa). Some records from Compagnie du Katanga and CSK from the 1890s and 1900s have survived and are available in the State Archives of Belgium 2 Dépôt Joseph Cuvelier in Brussels. For a slightly later period, the CSK’s voluminous records from the 1920s are available in the Royal Museum of Central Africa (RMCA) archives in Tervuren, Belgium.

Sources on the early colonial history of the Zambian Copperbelt can be found in the BSAC records at the National Archives of Zambia in Lusaka. These are particularly valuable sources as all BSAC records retained at their head office in London were destroyed during an air raid in 1941. These include reports, correspondence, and district notebooks produced by BSAC officials from 1890 to 1924, covering descriptions of the area and people that were, nominally at least, under their authority. In 2011, the National Archives digitized the district notebooks and DVD copies can be purchased from the archive.

Records produced by the colonial state in Congo are principally held in Brussels, grouped in the Archives Africaines of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (officially referred to as the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs). This is because, on the eve of Congolese independence in 1960, the Belgian government, fearful that a future Congolese government would use the material against them, transferred the colonial archives to Brussels in Opération Archives.

Bérengère Piret has written a useful guide to the structure and organization of the Archives Africaines, which total almost 6 miles of records and are stored at the State Archives of Belgium. These are open to researchers after a long period of inaccessibility. It is worth highlighting that, in addition to material like annual reports from the administration in Katanga, the Ministry for Colonial Affairs collection contains considerable material about labour in Katanga and about malaria and sleeping sickness on the Copperbelt, grouped in the Inspecteur Général de l’Hygiène collection. This collection also includes the papers of Harold d’Aspremont Lynden, the last Minister of African Affairs and head of Mission Technique Belge (Mistebel), which provided assistance to the Katangese secession. Not all records were removed at independence and, notably, provincial records of Katanga were not included in Opération Archives.

There is a wealth of sources for Copperbelt history at the National Archives of Zambia in Lusaka. This is primarily an archive of the colonial period. There are few documents after the early 1970s because when Zambia became a one-party state the ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP) took over responsibility for documents deemed to be political. Unfortunately, the return to multiparty democracy in 1991 has not altered the situation and little material is sent to the National Archives. There is an abundance of material from the colonial period, particularly in reports and correspondence from colonial officials on the Copperbelt and files from the Ministry of Labour and Social Services. There is a good history of the National Archives of Zambia by Miyanda Simabwachi.

In 1924, the BSAC handed over control of Northern Rhodesia to the British government and the territory was subsequently administered by the Colonial Office. These records are held at the National Archives in London and are relatively scant for the 1920s and 1930s and then voluminous for the 1940s and 1950s. The Copperbelt became a crucial part of Britain’s war economy as the British government bought Northern Rhodesia’s copper output, an arrangement subsequently extended to Katanga after the fall of Belgium. The British government intervened extensively in the copper industry and this continued after the war.

Political developments predominate in files at the British National Archives from the early 1950s until Zambian independence in 1964, relating to formation of the Central Africa Federation—joining together Northern Rhodesia with Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi), and largely financed by copper revenues—and its dissolution in 1963. There is little material about the Copperbelt in these archives after Zambian independence in 1964.

Philip Murphy provides a good overview of the complex and often convoluted institutional arrangements that governed colonial Zambia in the British Documents on the End of Empire volumes dealing with the Central African Federation. This series reproduces key documents from Britain’s National Archives and is available online. Two volumes cover events in the Central African Federation between 1945 and 1964 and many documents reproduced in these volumes pertain to the Copperbelt.

Zambia became a one-party state in 1971 and so the archive of UNIP contains much material relating to government and state functions from 1971 to 1991—when UNIP lost power—along with earlier material from the party. The Zambian Copperbelt was a key point of contestation during the late colonial period and again after independence when an opposition party to UNIP emerged there, the United Progressive Party. This archive also includes the records of the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress (ANC), from which UNIP split in 1957. The UNIP archive has been digitized and is available at the British Library in London. The physical archive was located in Lusaka, but in the mid-2010s it was removed from the warehouse in which it was stored.

Company Archives

Company archives are the most important source for the 20th century history of the Copperbelt because the companies that ran the copper industry in the region were not simply mining companies. Union Minière du Haut Katanga, Rhodesian Anglo American and the Rhodesian Selection Trust all constructed housing, hospitals, schools, and an array of leisure and welfare facilities for employees and, by the mid-20th century, effectively ran a cradle-to-grave welfare state. The nationalised companies that replaced them continued and expanded this system.

This means that the archives of the Copperbelt mining companies contain much more information about everyday life on the Copperbelt than might be expected, in addition to the kind of information about operations, finance, and corporate policy usually found in company archives. This paternalistic system disintegrated in the 1990s during the prolonged recession in the copper industry.

The mineral rush in what became known as the Copperbelt was triggered by the prospecting efforts of Tanganyika Concessions Ltd. (Tanks). Tanks was formed in 1899 by the Scottish engineer Robert Williams and was awarded prospecting rights over a vast area in Northern Rhodesia and Katanga. Expeditions were quickly organized to the Copperbelt and claims pegged on existing abandoned mine workings. The size of these copper deposits encountered led to the formation of a new company to exploit them in 1906: Union Minière du Haut Katanga, in which Tanks held a minority share. The majority stake was held by the Belgian bank Société Générale de Belgique.

The extensive archive of Tanks in the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester therefore contains material both on Tanks and Union Minière. This is a crucial source for the early years of mining operations as the archive includes annual reports, meeting minutes, labour reports (as Tanks controlled labour recruitment from outside Congo), company accounts, correspondence, and the personal papers of Robert Williams. The collection also contains photographs of mining operations and railway construction. Belgian control over Union Minière tightened after World War I and Tanks’ share of the holding was reduced sharply in 1921. The amount of archival material about the Copperbelt correspondingly diminishes and there is little Copperbelt-related material after the mid-1930s.

The early 20th century on the Zambian Copperbelt is less well documented. One small mine, Bwana Mkubwa, the earliest industrial mine on the Zambian Copperbelt, was worked intermittently from 1903 until 1931, but few records have survived. If this material survives anywhere, it will be with Anglo American, who came to own the mine. Similarly, few records from the early prospecting companies have survived as these records were mostly pulped during World War II when the British government required paper for the war effort.

The archival record improves from the mid-1920s because the records of the Selection Trust have survived and are available at the London School of Economics. The Selection Trust began prospecting in Northern Rhodesia in the mid-1920s and formed the Rhodesian Selection Trust (RST) to develop the copper orebodies discovered there. Much of this archival material relates to the financing, prospecting, and early development of Roan Antelope and Mufulira mines, as well as the corporate and financial history of the Selection Trust. In 1930, the Selection Trust sold a majority stake in RST to the American Metal Company and there is consequently relatively little material in the archive relating to the Copperbelt after this point. There is also material about the 1920s and 1930s in the archives of Rio Tinto at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Union Minière soon became a vast corporate enterprise and sources on the company are principally held in two other locations: Brussels and Lubumbashi. The company’s headquarters were in Belgium and part of its archive is at the State Archives of Belgium 2 Dépôt Joseph Cuvelier. Two collections of Union Minière documents are housed here. The first collection relates primarily to the administration of the company and contains a reasonably comprehensive record of general meetings, minutes from various committees, records of the administrative departments, and legal documents. Some records from Union Minière’s affiliated companies, such as Sogechim and Metalkat, are grouped with these records but these are patchy. The second collection is about production and contains technical, geological, and statistical information mostly from the period 1940 to 1970, along with some papers from the company’s leadership, including Union Minière’s longstanding director Edgar Sengier.

The State Archives of Belgium also incorporate other archives of companies with Copperbelt interests, mostly grouped in the collection of Compagnie du Katanga. There is a separate collection for Société Générale de Belgique. This collection incorporates material on the corporate governance of CSK, including its liquidation, and on Union Minière, as well the personal papers of key individuals associated with the company, including the engineer Jean Jadot. Other important company archives are held at the RMCA, including the archives of Chemin de Fer du Bas-Congo au Katanga and Société Générale des Forces Hydro-Electriques.

In 1967, Union Minière was nationalized and subsequently renamed Générale des Carrières et des Mines, better known by its abbreviated name Gécamines. Gécamines maintains archives in Lubumbashi and Likasi and these can be accessed with permission from the company. These archives contain considerable material on labour, including recruitment and labour unrest, housing, health, and disease in the department Médecine du Travail, company reports, technical material, meeting minutes, and documents by and about trade unions on the mines. Although the Gécamines archive has been extensively utilized by historians, there is much that has been relatively overlooked, such as material about the environment. There are much fewer records after privatization, though Gécamines still exists and maintains a minority stake in mines in DR Congo.

However, the archives of Gécamines were severely impacted by political and economic developments. The slump in copper prices in the mid-1970s, coupled with political mismanagement, brought mounting difficulties for Gécamines. The collapse of Kamoto Mine in Kolwezi in 1990 and the general political turmoil that engulfed the country in the early 1990s brought about a crisis for Gécamines. It could no longer maintain the paternalistic regime for its workforce or even pay them regularly. This was followed by the Second Congo War (1998–2002), during which mining operations virtually ceased.

Zambia nationalized its mining industry partially in 1969 and then fully in 1974. After full nationalization, the private archival holdings of the mining industry were turned into public records by the Ministry of Home Affairs, thereby at a stroke creating a source for economic and social history perhaps unparalleled on the continent in terms of size and depth. Until this point, the Zambian Copperbelt had been controlled by RST and Rhodesian Anglo American (RAA), a subsidiary of Anglo American. Both RAA and RST were headquartered in London until the early 1950s when both relocated to Northern Rhodesia. For historians, this had the happy by-product of grouping their archives in one place, unlike the Union Minière archive split between Brussels and Lubumbashi.

The archive of Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) in Ndola holds the records of RAA, RST, the Northern Rhodesia Chamber of Mines, and material from ZCCM itself. There is a useful overview of contents of the ZCCM archive and other mining collections in Zambia by Hyden Munene but much of this vast archive remains uncatalogued. Archival material dates from the 1920s and continues until the present as ZCCM still exists, albeit since 2001 primarily as a holding company. The archive contains material on housing, education, health care, trade unions, and company administration, technical information, and thousands of personnel records for former mine employees. There are gaps in the collection, however. While Zambia avoided the kind of political upheaval and violence experienced in Katanga, economic hardship on the Copperbelt in the 1990s led to documents from the ZCCM archive being sold as scrap paper.

ZCCM still exists and the archive continues to receive boxes of files each year. This has created a problem with storage as the main repository is already full. In 2018, a second repository was created by dismantling and removing the Copperbelt Museum and ZCCM library, which contained technical publications, company reports, and mine magazines. Material from the library was reportedly sent to another ZCCM site in Kalulushi in 2018 but, at the time of writing, was not accessible there.

Some environmental records produced by ZCCM are housed separately at the Misenge Environmental and Technical Resource Services in Kalulushi. Records held there primarily date from the 1990s and 2000s and include the Copperbelt Environmental Project, funded by the World Bank to tackle historic pollution issues on the Copperbelt. Misenge is a subsidiary of ZCCM and developed from its former environmental department.

Inaccessibility of source material has become a serious problem since the privatization of the mining industry across the Copperbelt in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Under pressure from the World Bank, the mines were sold to private companies, many of whom have no incentive to subject their operations to greater scrutiny or permit more transparency into the circumstances under which they were acquired. Unlike its predecessor, the Chamber of Mines of Zambia does not produce regular publications or statistical information. The same is true of the Chambre des Mines DRC. Moreover, there are few sources available on the new copper mines that opened during the 2000s in Zambia’s North-Western Province—generally known as the “new Copperbelt.” The overall result is a paucity of information about the history of the industry in the 2000s and 2010s. Several of the mining companies operating in the Copperbelt are notoriously secretive and so it is not likely that they will make their records accessible to researchers, or anyone else, in the foreseeable future.

Trade Union Archives

Labour has been the major preoccupation of Copperbelt scholars yet there are few archives produced by workers’ own organizations. Moreover, labour outside of wage labour in the mines has generally been poorly documented. Sources on labour that do exist mostly pertain to the mining industry. Trade unions have faced state repression and financial pressures and have largely not been able to maintain their own archives. Sources on labour are generally found in state and company archives. There are some exceptions to this, most notably the digitized Mineworkers’ Union of Zambia (MUZ) archive.

Trade unions were first established on the Copperbelt by white workers, in 1919 in Katanga, though swiftly suppressed, and in 1936 in Northern Rhodesia. There was a major strike by African mineworkers in Northern Rhodesia in 1935 and then upheavals on both sides of the Copperbelt in the early 1940s. These strikes were all violently repressed. This unrest contributed to a modernizing impulse in British and Belgian colonialism that sought to stabilize colonial rule and quell unrest from new urban workforces by fostering non-political trade unions to engage in collective bargaining.

Unfortunately, material produced by trade unions has been scattered far and wide, and much has been lost. MUZ holds no records from the colonial period, no records appear to have survived from the Mines African Staff Association, and the archive of the white mineworkers’ union was destroyed when it was banned in 1969. Some records and correspondence are housed in the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam among the papers of international labour organizations to which Copperbelt unions were affiliated, including the Miners’ International Federation, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and World Federation of Trade Unions. Close links between British trade unionists and their counterparts on the Zambian Copperbelt have also left an archival legacy and some documents produced by Copperbelt unions survive in British labour archives, including the Trade Union Congress papers at the Modern Records Centre in the University of Warwick.

Material on period since the late 1960s is available from the MUZ archive which has been digitised and is available to researchers at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. The physical archive, along with a digital copy, remains at the union’s headquarters at Katilungu House, Obote Avenue, Kitwe. This is accessible to researchers with permission from MUZ. This material dates from 1967, when three existing trade unions merged to form MUZ, until the present, and is mostly from the 1990s and 2000s. This contains material about union administration, company negotiations, records from various branches, privatization of the mines, and the union’s own struggles to survive. However, there are major gaps in this archive as the survival of material has been haphazard. Many files were destroyed in a fire in the 1970s, further records were lost when striking miners burnt down the Mufulira office. Surviving archival material was digitized between 2018 and 2020.

Trade unions have played a less prominent role in Katanga’s history. Trade unions were legalized after World War II but did not achieve the same kind of mass membership as in Northern Rhodesia. Union Minière’s paternalistic policies appear to have dampened worker militancy and there were no major strikes at their operations after World War II. White trade unions, re-established in the early 1940s, began to organize sections for Congolese workers and these unions were absorbed into the metropolitan union Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique (FGTB) in 1947. It is possible that some of these papers survive in Belgian FGTB archives. Trade unions were rendered toothless under during Mobutu Sese Seko, though trade union leaders did join the board of Gécamines after nationalization.

Sources on labour history on the Congolese Copperbelt since the early 2000s are scant as the labour movement is extremely fragmented. Congolese labour law stipulates that any company with more than ten workers must have union representation in the workplace and hold elections for union delegations every three years. Unions have consequently proliferated in Katanga since the 1990s but many of these are short-lived as they are formed primarily to compete in union elections. Moreover, many companies, especially in the mining sector, have created what are known as des syndicats fantômes, trade unions that exist only on paper.

Missionary and Religious Archives

The first Christian missionaries arrived on the Copperbelt shortly before the beginning of colonial rule in the late 19th century and, in the decades that followed, came to play an important role, particularly in Katanga where Catholic missionaries worked closely with major employers and the colonial state.

The colonial state in both Belgian Congo and Northern Rhodesia encouraged missionaries to establish schools on the Copperbelt. In Katanga, the Benedictines, a Catholic order, provided education on a large scale as Union Minière effectively outsourced the education and welfare of their workforce to the order. The Documentation and Research Centre on Religion, Culture and Society (KADOC) at KU Leuven houses the Benedictines’ archive along with the papers of the Benedictine bishop Jean-Félix de Hemptinne, the Apostolic Vicar of Katanga, who was an ardent colonialist and closely connected with the colonial administration and Union Minière. KADOC also houses the papers of other Belgian Catholic orders active on the Copperbelt, including the archives of the Jezuïeten–Noord-Belgische Provincie (Northern Province of the Jesuits) who had a station in Lubumbashi.

Protestant missionaries were side-lined in Katanga by the close links that Catholic missionaries had with the state, referred to by several scholars as the “trinity” of church, state, and capital. Protestant missionaries were present, however, and important collections include the archive of the Baptist Missionary Society’s mission in Katanga from 1891 to 1946 among the papers of Frantz Cornet, held at the RMCA; the Baptist Missionary Society records until 1973 at the Angus Library and Archive in Oxford; and records of Methodist missions in Katanga at the United Methodist Archive and History Centre at Drew University in New Jersey. The latter collection contains extensive files on education provided by American Methodists, who ran schools in Lubumbashi.

In Northern Rhodesia, Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived on the Copperbelt in the early 1930s. Useful sources on Catholic missions, the first of which were led by the Franciscans, are held in the Vatican Archives in Rome. The collections of the Methodist Missionary Society and the London Missionary Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London contain reports from their missionaries and missions on the Zambian Copperbelt, and the latter collection incorporates the papers of Thomas Fox-Pitt. Fox-Pitt was a colonial official on the Copperbelt in the 1920s and 1940s and subsequently became an opponent of colonial rule.

Missionary sources located within the region are slimmer as most tended to flow back to the countries where the religious organizations themselves were based. There are two notable exceptions to this. The White Fathers maintain an archive in Lusaka that documents a century of the mission’s involvement in Zambia’s Northern Province. Union Minière recruited heavily from this region in the late 1910s and 1920s and RST and Anglo American subsequently did the same. In Lubumbashi, the Salésien Library located near the University of Lubumbashi contains hundreds of interview transcripts collected by Father Léon Verbeek, many of which are about art and culture.

One greatly underutilized religious archive is that of the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Pennsylvania, better known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Watch Tower Movement—also known as the Kitawala Movement—swept the region in the 1920s and 1930s and preached a kind of millennial salvation. Its adherents were blamed for inciting strikes and protests and the colonial authorities unsuccessfully tried to suppress the movement. Their publications—which had already been translated into Bemba, Tonga, and Ila from the 1910s—were banned in Northern Rhodesia. Non-members cannot normally access these archives, but the archivists have occasionally assisted scholars. In the late 1980s, archivists sent John Higginson photocopied documents for his book about labour on Katanga’s mines.

African churches that emerged independently of European missions are less well documented, especially the evangelical churches that have proliferated on the Copperbelt since the 1980s. Even more poorly documented is the spread of Islam to the Copperbelt. There are, for instance, references in mining company records to the construction of mosques by workers recruited from Malawi and Tanzania in the 1930s but this history of Islam in the region is largely unknown. It is possible that material in the missionary archives discussed in this section could be utilized for this topic, as both Catholic and Protestant missionaries were generally vigilant about the activities of rival religious groups.

International Organizations

Sources about Copperbelt history in the archives of international organizations generally pertain to major and dramatic events, such as the secession of Katanga and the economic crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. The holdings of the United Nations (UN) and World Bank are highlighted here. There is relatively little material on the Copperbelt in other international organizations where, intuitively, sources might be expected. This includes the archives of the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization in Geneva.

The secession of Katanga immediately after Congolese independence was perhaps the most dramatic political event in the region’s history as the Copperbelt became the centre of Cold War rivalries and neo-colonial intrigue. Notoriously, Congo’s first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was taken to Katanga after being overthrown and was murdered there, and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash on the Copperbelt while trying to resolve the secession. UN troops were deployed at the invitation of Lumumba in 1960 and eventually ended the Katangese secession through military force three years later.

The critical role of the UN in ending the secession means that there is considerable archival material about the secession, diplomatic efforts to resolve it, and military conflict, including the role played by white mercenaries whom UN forces expelled from Katanga. Archival material is grouped into the records of the United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC), which include reports, correspondence, and photographs; the United Nations Office for Special Political Affairs; and the records of the UN Secretary General, both Hammarskjöld and his successor U Thant. These archives are held in the UN Archives and Records Management Section at the UN headquarters in New York and some archival material has been digitized and is available through the UN website. There are few restrictions on the material and, following a review by the Department of Peacekeeping from 2016–2018, almost all ONUC files held at the UN were declassified.

In September 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash on the outskirts of Ndola while en route to Katanga, an event that has attracted persistent suspicion that he was killed by Katangese forces, either accidentally or deliberately. Files on Hammarskjöld’s death and the subsequent investigation into the crash are available at the UN Archives in New York. More material about Hammarskjöld’s death is available on the website of the Hammarskjöld Commission established by the UN General Assembly to establish whether his death should be reinvestigated. Hammarskjöld’s own archive is divided between the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm and Columbia University Library in New York, though only a portion of this collection relates to Copperbelt history. Columbia University Library also holds the papers of Andrew Cordier, who served as special envoy of the UN Secretary General during the Congo Crisis.

The World Bank archives in Washington, DC, contain material on the history of the Copperbelt since the 1970s, as the Bank played an important role in the protracted economic crisis that afflicted DR Congo and Zambia from that time and the subsequent wide-ranging privatization program. Archival records of the Operations (Loan) Committee, for instance, contain files on both Gécamines and ZCCM, both of which were loaned money by the World Bank in the mid-1980s. The Bank has complex rules on what kind of information can be disclosed and any records eligible for declassification must be screened in advance before they can be made available to researchers, a process which takes eight to sixteen weeks. However, many World Bank reports on DR Congo and Zambia have been digitized and can be accessed through the World Bank website. This includes reports about the mining industry.

Personal Archival Papers

The personal papers of prominent individuals and scholars connected to the Copperbelt constitute an important and underutilized source for the region’s past. These are primarily papers from academics, politicians, and businesspeople, and it should be made clear that there is a pronounced bias here. It appears that no personal papers of local political figures or trade unionists on the Copperbelt have survived.

Perhaps the most significant collections of personal papers are those of scholars associated with the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute (RLI). The RLI became part of the University of Zambia and was reconstituted as the Institute of Economic and Social Research. The Institute still exists but declined after the 1970s, particularly as it was reliant on funding from the Zambian government, and the University of Zambia retains a small collection of its files.

The personal papers of RLI scholars have been scattered far and wide:

The RLI’s first director, Godfrey Wilson, wrote about Broken Hill (Kabwe), a mining town to the south of the Copperbelt, and his work on migrant labourers and urban identity was highly influential for how subsequent scholars thought about the Copperbelt. Wilson’s papers are grouped with the papers of Monica Wilson at the University of Cape Town Library.

The second RLI director Max Gluckman did research on the Lamba people displaced by the mines and shaped the Institute’s research program. His papers are available at the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester and the Royal Anthropological Institute in London.

James Clyde Mitchell was RLI director from 1952 to 1955 and conducted fieldwork on the Lamba people and in Luanshya. Mitchell’s papers are in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and contain material from urban surveys on the Copperbelt in the 1950s.

A.E. Epstein’s are housed at the University of San Diego in California and encompass his correspondence, field notes, and research material, including notes from meetings of the Northern Rhodesia ANC and African mineworkers’ union.

The papers of Hortense Powdermaker, who did fieldwork in Luanshya in 1953–1954, are held at Queens College, City University of New York and include her field notes and transcripts of interviews with African residents of Luanshya.

For the Congolese Copperbelt, the material collected and made available by Johannes Fabian through the Archives of Popular Swahili website is a rich source. Fabian researched in Katanga for several decades, and taught at the University of Lubumbashi, and has made interviews he conducted with Copperbelt residents in the 1970s freely available in Swahili and English. Other features of the collection include transcripts of conversations with informants on the Copperbelt about art, religion, and the history of Lubumbashi, plays by Troupe Théâtrale Mufwankolo, and translations of letters written by Union Minière employees to the company publication Mwana Shaba. Transcripts from interviews in Katanga from the 1990s and 2000s are available at the University of Lubumbashi in papers deposited at the Observatoire du Changement Urbain by researchers who conducted household surveys. Another useful source are the papers of the historian Bruce Fetter—who wrote on the colonial history of Lubumbashi and Union Minière, among other topics—which are available at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, where Fetter taught for many years.

The papers of Roy Welensky form an important source for political developments in the late colonial period. Welensky was federal prime minister from 1957 until the Federation was dissolved in 1963 and his personal archive contains many government papers that would normally have been deposited in a state archive, including cabinet minutes, though in this instance the state ceased to exist. This archive also contains much detail on the efforts of Welensky and the federal government to support the Katangese secession. There is little relevant material after the mid-1960s when Welensky went into effective retirement.

An important source for the history of political developments in Katanga, and Congo more generally, from the mid-20th century is the archive of the historian Jules Gérard-Libois. Gérard-Libois wrote the first major work on the Katangese secession, Sécession au Katanga. His papers are preserved at the RMCA in Tervuren along with photographs of leading political figures, sound recordings of the roundtable discussions prior to Congolese independence, and the records of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, of which Gérard-Libois was a member.

There are a relatively small number of archives from businesspeople, though some are contained in other collections, such as in the Union Minière archive. Notable among these are the papers of Ronald Prain. Prain was managing director at RST and then company chairman from 1950 until his retirement in 1972. Prain was closely involved in politics, both the establishment of the Federation and its dissolution, and established links with African nationalist politicians before Zambian independence. Prain’s personal papers are kept at the American Heritage Centre at the University of Wyoming. This same archive also contains the papers of Harold Hochschild, who was chairman of RST’s parent company, the American Metal Company. Material in this collection relates to corporate policy at RST. One other collection worth noting is the papers of David Symington, head of the Northern Rhodesia Chamber of Mines during the 1950s, at the British Library.

Newspapers and Journals

Newspaper sources can be roughly divided into those produced in the region and news and reports about the Copperbelt in the international press, especially British and Belgian newspapers. The latter are generally more accessible because many British and Belgian newspapers have been digitized and can be read online, though British newspaper databases usually charge for access. Newspapers published in Belgium during the colonial period are available through the website of the Royal Library of Belgium (now known as KBR) and are searchable. In British newspapers, articles about the Copperbelt become much scarcer after the end of colonial rule. The Financial Times is a partial exception to this as it publishes regular reports on the copper industry.

The first newspapers in the region were established in Lubumbashi in 1911—Etoile du Congo and Journal du Katanga—and were initially multilingual, with articles in French, English, and Flemish. As this suggests, their orientation was toward the small white population in the territory. The same was true in Northern Rhodesia. Two newspapers were established on the Copperbelt in the 1930s: the Copperbelt Times and the Northern Rhodesia Advertiser. Although both ran for several years, it appears that not a single copy has survived; none could be located by Francis Kasoma during his research in the mid-1980s for his book The Press in Zambia. This is partially remedied by the regular inclusion of a page of Northern Rhodesia news in the Bulawayo Chronicle during the interwar period; this was the most widely circulated newspaper in the territory.

Considerably more newspapers were produced on the Congolese side of the Copperbelt during the colonial period. Belgian colonial newspapers—including l’Echo du Katanga and l’Essor du Congo—are available in hardcopy and partially on microfilm at KBR in Brussels, and at the Centre for Research Libraries (CRL) and Northwestern University Library. The principal source for Congolese newspapers since independence is the RMCA in Tervuren, which holds more than 700 Congolese newspapers from the 1950s until the present, along with copies of periodicals from Lumbumbashi, such as Problèmes Sociaux Zaïrois and Likundoli. The museum also holds collections of press cuttings on Congolese topics from major Belgian newspapers, including Le Soir, La Libre Belgique, De Morgen, and De Standaard.

In Northern Rhodesia, the main newspaper during the colonial period was the Northern News, established in 1943 and a daily publication from 1953. After independence, it was renamed the Times of Zambia and was subsequently taken over by the Zambian government. It is still published. Copies of the Northern News are available on microfilm in the British Library (though only from 1951 and the collection is missing 1954 and 1955) and in the CRL (covering 1956 to 1965) and Columbia University Library (covering 1952–1954 and 1956–1965), and in hardcopy at the National Archives of Zambia. Bound copies of the Times of Zambia from the 1960s until the present and other major Zambian newspapers are also available at the National Archives of Zambia. Other newspapers in Southern Africa regularly carried items about the Copperbelt, though mostly from the Zambian side. The National Library of South Africa in Pretoria and the Johannesburg City Library both contain large collections of 20th-century newspapers from across the region.

In the 1950s, the mining companies established their own publications, both for employees and the general public. These can be a rich source for social history and are illustrated with photographs of mining operations, the towns, and the social lives of employees, with an emphasis on sport. In this period, different magazines were produced for the white and African employees, publications such as the Rhokana Review and Mufulira Magazine were for white employees and Luntandanya for African employees. Similarly, from 1953 until around 1959, Union Minière published a monthly magazine for its white employees entitled Haut-Katanga, which focused on social life and sport.

In the early 1960s, the policy of separate magazines was discontinued and these were replaced with weekly newspapers ostensibly aimed at all employees. These included the Rhokana Copper Miner, Mufulira Mirror, and Nchanga News. Mine publications produced by RST were replaced by a monthly magazine Horizon, and this magazine was gradually reoriented from an employee publication to a corporate publicity magazine during the 1960s. In the 1970s, existing mine publications were replaced with a new monthly publication Mining Mirror after the industry was nationalized, and this was published until around 1992, by which time ZCCM was facing severe financial problems. These publications are available at the ZCCM archive but are not catalogued. Libraries at Michigan State University and Northwestern University also hold copies of some company publications, including Mining Mirror. Present-day Copperbelt mining companies produce irregular corporate magazines and community newsletters, though these do not appear to be catalogued or stored in any public repository.

In 1957, Union Minière established a Swahili-language publication Mwana Shaba (which translates as “children of copper”) for its employees and even a publication for children of employees, Mwana Shaba Junior. Gécamines continued the same publication after the mines were nationalized. Michigan State University Library has a mostly complete run of Mwana Shaba from mid-1964 to 1992 and some copies of Mwana Shaba Junior. There are also copies of Mwana Shaba from the 1970s in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.

Other useful printed sources are specialist mining and engineering publications, and these often include information on housing and labour alongside technical articles. Until the mid-20th century, mine managers and other company officials regularly wrote articles for the Engineering & Mining Journal and South African Institute of Mining & Metallurgy. Anglo American produced its own quarterly journal Optima, from 1951, on mining and metallurgy, but it also had wider intellectual aspirations and included articles by political figures and writers. Optima is still published but, since the mid-1970s, has contained very few articles about the Copperbelt. Similarly, from 1974, Gécamines published Maadini, which began as a technical bulletin but subsequently broadened its focus to include rural development, social issues, and even art. This ceased publication in the early 1980s. Copies are held in the British Library, the African Studies Centre Leiden, and at several major US university libraries.

Photographs and Films

Places and people on the Copperbelt were photographed extensively during the 20th century yet these images have not been fully utilized by scholars. This is partly because some major collections have not been fully catalogued. Often these photographs were for propaganda purposes—both state and corporate—to illustrate the beneficial and transformative impact of European colonialism or a contented workforce well-provided-for by a benevolent employer. The same is true of films produced by the mining companies.

The RMCA has an enormous collection of photographs on Central Africa, totalling some 500,000 images from the late 19th century to the 1960s. Several thousand have been digitized and are available through the museum’s website. This collection includes images from the colonial propaganda agency InforCongo, which, much like the documents of colonial archives, were removed from Congo and taken to Belgium at independence. The InforCongo collection is steadily being digitized in a long-term project, though the total size of the collection is still unknown and some images are uncatalogued.

There is a similarly large collection at the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. The core of this archive is photos and slides taken by the American photojournalist Eliot Elisofon, who visited the Congolese Copperbelt in the 1960s and early 1970s. Many of his photographs have been digitized and are available online through the Smithsonian website, including his aerial photographs of Lubumbashi. The archive has subsequently expanded and other relevant collections are the African Postcard Collection, whose sixty-one volumes include postcards from DR Congo and Zambia, colour slides taken by the American academic William Adams Hance, and the collection of Léopold Gabriel, a commercial photographer who photographed the newly established mines and towns in Katanga in the 1910s. The Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives are open to researchers by appointment only and are open for three days a week.

Photographs taken by white settlers in Katanga were collected by the Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society (CEGESOM) in Brussels as part of a project to preserve private archives held by Belgians who lived in Congo. These include photos of everyday life in Kolwezi, Likasi, and Lubumbashi in the 1940s and 1950s, and photos of the conflict in Katanga during the 1960s. Many of these photographs have been digitized and are available through the CEGESOM website.

There are also substantial collections of photographs from the Copperbelt’s past available on the Copperbelt itself. In the mid-2000s, when it appeared that Gécamines would be liquidated, several thousand photos were removed from the company archives and many were sold locally. Around 4,000 photos were bought by the Institut Français de Lubumbashi and are available there, though this is a small fraction of the photographic material that was taken from the archive. The ZCCM archive in Ndola also contains a large collection of photos stored loosely in filling cabinets. This collection is uncatalogued.

One important source that should become available in the near future is film, specifically the films stored in the ZCCM archive. The archive houses approximately 220 films, mostly on 16 mm film, but the archive does not have equipment to play the reels. Twenty-nine have been digitized and are available on DVD at the archive. Since 2019, a project run by the University of Bristol and ZCCM has been cataloguing and digitizing the remaining films. The films date from the late 1940s to the mid-1980s and most were produced the 1960s and 1970s. They were produced by the mining companies and an independent film company Malachite Films and cover general life and work on the Copperbelt, including promotion of the mining industry, occupational health and safety, Zambian independence, sport, financial advice for mine employees, women’s health, and race relations.

Version: 16 July 2022

Updates and additional information welcome!


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