Comparing the Central African Copperbelt: Kitwe conference, July 2018

A landmark event for the ‘Comparing the Copperbelt’ project took place in the Zambian copperbelt city of Kitwe on 23-24 July 2018, when a two-day workshop (click here for programme) organised by the project brought together around 40 historians and social scientists from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and further afield to analyse and compare the linked histories of Haut Katanga and the Zambian Copperbelt. The conference was organised in partnership with the History Department of the University of Zambia (UNZA), Copperbelt University (CBU), and the University of Lubumbashi (UNILU), and was also attended by representatives of labour unions, environmental movements and cultural organisations.

Conference participants explored and explained the similarities and differences in the histories and more recent development of the two Copperbelt regions. In a keynote address, Prof Donatien Dibwe dia Mwembu of UNILU explained how, during World War Two, mineworkers in both Northern Rhodesia (colonial Zambia) and the Belgian Congo protested their poor conditions by strike action that was violently repressed by colonial forces. After the war, conditions were significantly improved in Congolese mines, and social provision – housing, education and social services – was rapidly improved, creating considerable industrial harmony in an atmosphere of authoritarian paternalism that however enabled significant social mobility.

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