Material renovation and social change

Post-industrial ruination on the Copperbelt in Zambia
Christian Straube’s research project at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology focussed on processes of ruination and renovation in the context of Zambia’s reprivatised copper industry. He conducted his fieldwork in Mpatamatu, a former mine township in the city of Luanshya from July 2015 to October 2016. Looking at former buildings of corporate social welfare such as bars and community centres, he investigated how township residents privately and collectively reappropriated these spaces.

The metal arch at the entrance to Luanshya welcomes visitors to this old mining town. The city’s coat of arms on the arch’s top with its two roan antelopes and motto hints to its foundation as mine camp when ‘copper was prized then’, lat. aes erat in pretio. © Christian Straube

The abandoned cemetery in the former European quarter of Luanshya tells the story of the hardships when the mining town was first constructed. Many residents died of malaria at a young age before an anti-malarial programme was initiated in the 1930s. It eventually limited the incidence of the tropical disease and the resulting death toll. © Christian Straube

The production facilities of the mine in Luanshya, started as Roan Antelope Copper Mines, is where copper extraction began in the late 1920s. Seen from Roan township, founded as the African township in the 1930s, production moved to the northwest. The growing distance between Roan township and the new shafts necessitated another township further west. That is how Mpatamatu was started in 1957. © Christian Straube

The overhead gear of 18th shaft still towers over the road leading into the township of Mpatamatu. Copper extraction started underground with shafts being driven into the ground along the ore body. Mismanagement and corruption led to the flooding of the underground carriageways after reprivatisation. Today, most extraction takes place on surface in large pits west of the overhead gear. © Christian Straube

Mpatamatu is marked by old and new forms of infrastructure. 28th shaft has been closed since the reprivatisation of Zambia’s copper industry in the late 1990s. Its overhead gear does not represent any longer residents’ main source of income. In contrast, the cell tower in front of it offers new opportunities of communication. These are often the basis for new informal economic activities. © Christian Straube

When Mpatamatu was built every household had running water and electricity. These infrastructures were maintained under the state-owned company ZCCM. After reprivatisation, they collapsed. Moreover, residents were not in the position to pay for water and electricity. Rural practices of procuring water and cooking on imbaula braziers entered urban Mpatamatu. © Christian Straube

Broken windows symbolise the state of government schools in Mpatamatu. This school was opened as ‘Government School for Natives’ under the British colonial government in 1959. It was taken over by the Zambian Ministry of Education in 1964. To this day the brick building has been standing almost unchanged at its place. Vandalism and a lack of funds for renovation left their marks. © Christian Straube

The Chinese state-owned company CNMC runs the copper mine in Luanshya. In contrast to its predecessors, the Chinese company keeps out of the lives of its workers and their families. The words painted on Mpatamatu’s Kalulu Street might be an allusion to the indirect power of the employer over its employees’ living conditions or a hint to the dominance of Chinese companies in Zambia’s road construction sector. © Christian Straube

Mpatamatu Sports Complex once offered mine employees and their dependants a variety of leisure activities from basketball and badminton to martial arts. Moreover, the building housed a gym. Abandoned by the local mine operator, it became the church of an international Pentecostal organisation. People turned away from the mine and toward God in their longing for certainty and success. © Christian Straube

The signboard welcoming visitors to Mpatamatu Stadium. It is still home of a football club, albeit it is not a mine club anymore. Corporate support for football on the Copperbelt was extensive under the state-owned company ZCCM. Mpatamatu United FC cannot ascend to a higher league because of financial difficulties. © Christian Straube

The back of Mpatamatu Stadium’s stand reveals the encroachment of the bush on a township once marked by urban consumption. A decaying former sports facility becomes encircled by soil used for subsistence agriculture. Deliberate burning to increase the fertileness of the land heralds a new planting season for everyday crops such as maize, bananas and cabbage. © Christian Straube

A wood frame goal marks one end of a football pitch east of former Muliashi Community Centre. Where once a playground, volleyball and basketball courts provided leisure time opportunities for mineworkers and their families, township residents have to come up with alternative means to make sports activities possible. © Christian Straube

Kansengu Tavern was once Mpatamatu’s first and only beer hall. It is centrally located catering to residents of sections 21, 22 and 23. Business is low and the building has been ransacked several times. The sitting tenant sublet several rooms of the building to generate an additional income and prevent burglary. © Christian Straube

Kabulangeti Tavern was part of a decentralised infrastructure of beer halls across Mpatamatu. Several managers failed to keep up a bar without corporate subsidies after the mine’s reprivatisation. Eventually, the former drinking place was turned into a church. At service, the female preacher confronted the devil through the place’s previous immoral practices: drinking and advances between men and women. © Christian Straube

Mpatamatu’s Payline buildings formerly filled with mineworkers every last day of the month. It was here where employees were handed out their salary in cash. In times of payment by bank transaction, the buildings seemed doomed. However, a private school took them over, installed new walls and created several classrooms on the inside. Originally not planned for people to sit and study, the low ceiling and absence of windows regularly results in hot temperatures during the dry season. © Christian Straube

The inner court of Nkulumashiba East Secondary School in Mpatamatu’s section 22. Founded as a primary school and built of red bricks like many social facilities in the township, the school was turned into a secondary school in the early 2010s. © Christian Straube

Formerly a training centre for boxers, Hall B has become a carpentry. The owner has gradually decreased his production to the one product left that every men and women need at the end of their lives: coffins. © Christian Straube
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