History of Kitwe City

A Brief History

Historically, Kitwe has been known to be the hub of economic activities on the Zambian Copperbelt, with the mining sector playing a pivotal role in its growth and development. The high population density in Kitwe city poses unique challenges and opportunities in public service delivery because Kitwe City Council (KCC) has to deal with the complex task of efficiently and effectively utilizing scarce resources to respond to the needs of an ever increasing urban populace.

The City of Kitwe is located in the central part of the Copperbelt province. The City has had mining operations dating back to the 1930s. It was originally called Nkana after the local chiefdom and derived its name from the then “Citwe” (now known as Kitwe) Stream. The name Kitwe depicts the skull of an elephant (icitwe chansofu) which was found alongside copper ore deposits. Foreign settlers could not pronounce the name “Icitwe” as the natives used to call it, and pronounced the name as “Kitwe”.

The discovery of rich copper deposits near Chief Nkana’s palace motivated the early white settlers to persuade the chief to relocate his chiefdom to another area. This led to sinking of the first shaft at Nkana mine in 1928. Smelting operations commenced in 1932. With a thriving mining sector, the population of Kitwe grew rapidly, as evidenced by growth in housing demand through the establishment of mining townships in the early 1950s.

Kitwe became a Management Board in 1951, and achieved Municipal status three years later. It attained city status in 1967. The favourable copper prices in the early 1970s saw the development of secondary industries and a rapid increase in population due to migration of a youthful labourforce from the rural areas, in search of jobs. Infrastructure expanded quite rapidly as well. At this time, the city of Kitwe developed tarred roads and an efficient railway transport system.

However, the time of economic prosperity was followed by the oil crisis of the mid-1970s triggering the downward trend in economic activity.

This was worsened by the fall in the price of copper. The immediate consequence of this reduced revenue in copper was the degeneration of infrastructure and the failure by the Council to invest in new housing schemes. As a consequence of failure to invest in new housing, illegal settlements (slums) sprung up to accommodate retrenched employees, most of whom, could not return to their home districts.

Besides the economic downturn, Central Government stopped providing regular grants to local government authorities for social service provision. This acted as a final blow to the council’s capacity to provide quality social services. Additionally, the mines, which were providing social services in the areas surrounding their locality, were privatized starting from 1996 to 2000. The new owners opted to undertake as minimal corporate social responsibility as possible in the former mine townships, resulting in increased responsibility for the local authorities.

The Kitwe City Council believes that the infrastructure in the city can still be resuscitated with the participation of stakeholders in the city, that is; the business community, inclusive of mining entities, Non-Governmental Organisations, as well as the residents. Furthermore, the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) could be used to provide or upgrade infrastructure in prioritized areas of the City. Other sources of income aimed at improving service delivery include the Restructuring and Recurrent grant, and the Land Development Fund aimed at opening up new areas for development.