Memories of Chingola

23 June 2008 by

A blog reader from Cardiff, Mr. Paul Duggan, has sent in a very interesting account of his experiences of working in the Copper Mines in Chingola in the 1970s. It provides a fascinating insight into the life of a young engineer from the UK in Zambia.

“We arrived in Chingola in April 1976, it was 12 years after independence and still quite colonial, the Europeans were well “looked after”.

My wife was 23, I was 26 and our daughters were 3 and just 10 months and I think now, that I saw our two year contract almost as VSO except I was getting paid for it.

Nchanga copper mines had recruited me and quite a few other craftsmen, with a large advert in a Sunday newspaper. I was a Power Station trained specialist so they put me to work 1500ft. underground in the pump chambers on machinery that I was familiar with thankfully.

Our first house was in 12th street but we only stayed a few weeks, long enough to gain a houseboy called Dackwell Banda who stayed with us for the whole two years and became part of our little family. He was a good man who had come to the copperbelt from eastern Zambia near the border with Malawi a few years before our arrival.

The social life for the Europeans was based around the rugby or cricket club as well as gatherings in each other’s homes for braais which meant there was often overtime for Dackwell in the evening looking after Kathryn and Paula. Dackwell would earn the same as a day’s pay for his babysitting duties, so he would always be very happy to watch television for a few hours with the girls tucked under his arms.

Dackwell’s basic monthly wages were K30 but the Kwacha was worth more than it is today. Usually he got about K50 which was about £30 then.

Dackwell and his wife had a baby in 1977 and he asked us what to call the baby! We protested that it was for him and his wife to choose, in the end he compromised and somewhere in Chingola is a young woman called Paulo Banda.

The mine moved us up to Kabundi to a more modern house and our neighbours were nearly all Europeans who happened to work underground. It was better for Dackwell too as he lived in the “compound” which was quite close.

We seemed to settle into life in Chingola quite easily, everybody started work early in the morning, you had to be ready to go underground by 6.15, but your day’s work was done by 2.15 so you had plenty of time to spend with your family in the afternoon, if you weren’t dragged off to the mine club for an afternoon drinking marathon. I soon realised that I was definitely a lightweight when it came to drinking so I tended to head home or met Lynette and the girls at the municipal pool.

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Next phase…

13 April 2008 by

Our joint project and Reciprocal Visits Grant have now been signed off by the British Council, which now leaves us free to apply for the next stage in funding to develop our partnership. We are keen now to formally involve other departments within each of our schools as we plan for the next phase and future visits. If any readers have existing experiences of cross-curricular projects that we could learn from, please contact either Mr. Biebrach or Mr. Phiri.

Read all about it…

13 April 2008 by

Many thanks to the Welsh Secondary School Association (WSSA) for awarding our partnership the International Schools Award for 2007. It is good to get recognition but also raises the profile in the local and wider community. Read about in here (from the South wales Echo).

extract from the Echo

Mr. Phiri has also written an excellent article which appeared in the Zambia Daily Mail. It can be read here.

Zambia daily Mail extract

Kabundi High School – now in google maps!

4 December 2007 by

I have been waiting for this for a long time but finally the people at Google have created excellent coverage of Chingola and large parts of Copperbelt Province. We will now link up some images to different places to create an interactive map. Unfortunately it does not seem to like being embedded in WordPress, but the link below will take you there!


View Larger Map

The next phase – let’s talk ‘face to face’!

19 November 2007 by

Mr Biebrach and Mr Phiri will be trialling a video conferencing link on 27th November. If this is successful we hope to involve our classes over the next few weeks. The potential is endless, but we are planning to start with a transcontinental debate between our school debating teams, interviews between students and even involving parents. If you have any ideas how it could be further developed please let us know by leaving a comment.

We must express our thanks to John Warwick and the Open University for the use of their website ( and Explosion Foundation Tech. Ltd (internet cafe) in Chingola for allowing the fabulous opportunity.


Day 4 : 24th April,2007

11 June 2007 by

The sky was bright though temperatures were still low for me. It took us about 30 minutes to drive to school. I had gotten to grips with the school’s daily routine and knew what followed at each moment. The one task I was tasked to do was a presentation to a house in the assembly.

Assembly (1st House)

The assembly was organized and the proceedings commenced at about 08:50 hours. Pupils opened with a song led by Mrs. Yaminelly on a piano. My presentation followed thereafter. I briefly discussed location, position, life economy, tradition and culture of Zambia. On these aspects I reminded pupils about the value of culture and how we in Zambia value our tradition and culture as a beacon of our identity. Culture I explained helps to know where people are coming from, where they are and where they are going. It was such a fulfilling meeting.

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Day 3 : 23rd April,2007

11 June 2007 by

It was a mild morning with a fine drizzle falling steadily. I had woken up early with a steadfast anticipation of a new experience in a new environment. I had just finished preparing when Tom walked into the room inviting me for breakfast. I quickly went up with him to the dining room and had our meal. Shortly thereafter we were off to school. As we traveled, I realized Pencoed was some distance away from Broadlands where Tom stays .In fact I thought I would see a school of similar features as Kabundi High School. Almost immediately I discovered I was totally wrong. I was awe struck when a sprawling architectural modern school emerged as we made a turn into its beautiful yard. Most buildings are two storey structures.

Tom and I arrived at school round about 08:35hours.My first day in school was very fascinating. By 08:50hours staff had gathered in the main staff-room waiting for a briefing and my official welcome by the headmaster. It was not long before he walked in and touched on various issues of academic as well as disciplinary nature. He gave a forecast for the week and touched on staff welfare. Finally I was officially welcomed and encouraged to feel at home. The headmaster did also talk about the importance of our school partnership and highlighted the benefits this will bring to our two schools. It was time to go teaching. My first presentation was in the Assembly Hall with Year 12s .I was impressed with the orderliness and a sense of anticipation among the pupils. Well the subject was HIV/AIDS and health issues affecting Zambia and Wales. I was struck by the lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS among pupils. I must say the presentation received a very positive reaction among pupils as well as members of staff who were present. A pupil came out and said her uncle had died of HIV/AIDS related ailments and this affected her mother so badly. She said she was going to share this information with her mother. I hope this is sign that HIV/AIDS will be discussed freely among pupils and in the community at large. They say” time and tide wait for no man”. The school partnership presents an opportunity for us to learn more about the scourge. In essence this will help us learn more about preventive measures as well as mitigations. To achieve this we need to start from somewhere. The dangerous thing is to think that HIV/AIDS is for a particular class of people like homosexuals, poor people or those who are rich, or those in urban areas. This is not the case. HIV/AIDS does not know class or status. In Zambia when the first case was reported in 1983, the reaction among the people was, well this is a disease for the ‘Apamwambas’ that is the rich. In due course the infection rate escalated and the consequences have been very devastating .The disease has eaten into our population both young and old leaving a lot of families economically vulnerable and facing other externalities. Open discussion, removal of stigma and other positive strategies have helped reduce infection rates in various parts of Zambia.

After the assembly I was entreated to a warm atmosphere of smiles, greetings and further questioning. I could sense the kindheartedness of the Welsh people and particularly pupils and teachers in Pencoed. Pupils could run-up to me to greet me in Bemba Yes that is what I said. They greeted me in Bemba saying “Mwashibukeni?” Excitedly I answered back saying “Eya mukwai”.Cultural appreciation is evident here. I also desired to learn some Welsh as soon as I could. Tom did a good job teaching the children the Bemba morning salutation.

The next was a meeting with Year 7s in Tom’s class. The lesson centered on pollution in the local area i.e. Bridgend. We discussed the main pollution issues and ways of combating pollution. I must admit that I was impressed with the level of awareness among pupils about pollution. This was a small class of less than 30 pupils. It is huge contrast with the kind of classes we handle in Zambia. The classroom is stocked with a computer, a projector and other computer support accessories. The class also has internet. The classrooms are connected to a centrally controlled LAN in the Technology Department.

Class photo

I also had an opportunity to meet a Special Education Needs (SEN) Year 8 class. The children asked me endless questions about Zambia. Interestingly one child in the class is from Zimbabwe. My heart goes to these pupils and the teachers handling them. My time with them gave me a unique classroom experience. This definitely would avail a good challenge to my fellow teachers at Kabundi High School. We do not have a special needs class per say. Later I was taken on a tour of the school premises by two senior administrative officers. I was taken to various departments, sports fields and all the offices. One thing I noticed was how well stocked the departments are and the decorum face of the rooms. The rooms are so appealing to learning and teaching.

The opportunity to meet Mrs. Chris Ashman a member of the senior management team was quite revealing to me because I was able to compare our curriculum to that being used in Pencoed Comprehensive. Though she has a major in history, I got an insight of what obtains in the choosing of subjects at the various levels of study. At year 9 pupils take English, Math, Science and Welsh. They then chose three other subjects from a column of subjects given to them. At year 11pupils write public exams with the Exam Board chosen by the subject teacher. Exams come at the end of the 3 term calendar year. That is around mid-May to June. If a teacher opts to change the Exam Board a period of 2 years is allowed for transition. Interestingly pupils do not pay for exams but the school makes an exam budget. At O’ level the cost is £15 per paper and at A’ level it is £10 per paper. For practical subjects like aural and oral in language the cost is £20 per person. As for marking of exam papers the Exam Boards have a choice with who marks. Usually markers include professional retired teachers.

After a successful meeting with Mrs. Ashman, Tom and I had lunch from the School Canteen.Teachers and pupils freely mingled to get food from the counter. This is a very different arrangement from what we usually have in Zambia. The Canteen I would say has hotel standards because it is very clean.


Just after lunch, I had another meeting of 16 pupils in year 11.We discussed population and development issues facing Zambia. I discussed the history of development, i.e. in pre-colonial and post colonial eras. We also looked at differences in development between third world countries and those in the West. The day ended with a review of the day’s activities over an evening meal at home.

Day 2-22nd April,2007

15 May 2007 by

DAY 2: 22nd April, 2007

The day’s weather was cool and cloudy with intermittent sunshine as the day went on. The main event of the day was the visit to Big Pit Coal Mine which is now a national museum.

A typical day in Wales begins with very unpredictable weather which oscillates between clear weather to cold, cloudy, rain weather. Weather is one of the major discussion points in Wales due to its adversity. Generally, the temperatures are low throughout the year with persistent drizzles for larger parts of the year. An area like Bridgend receives sea-breezes which further cool the air.

During the period of my visit, the weather I was told was unusually sunny and warm. Could this be a sign of global climate change due to pollution of the environment? It is a subject worth discussing in all extents and purposes. The maximum temperature is usually about 20oC. This is according to what my colleague Tom said. When I was told this, I was like well this is only about our minimum average temperatures. In areas like the Zambezi Valley, maximum temperatures go up to as high as 49oC. This is a huge disparity in temperature between the two countries.

One major striking feature in Bridgend and South Wales in general is the attractive scenery offered by the green vegetation, mountainous terrain and valleys. Many places are highlands and in some parts gently sloping. Most of the valleys are dry and hold large settlements with variations in the quality and age of housing units.

On the journey to Big Pit, I observed variations in the surrounding vegetation. There was land under natural vegetation and that of planted trees. From a distance it was impossible to ignore the effects of industrialization, more so there are places with enigmatic dips and hollows. Tom explained to me that the valleys were mining took place were most polluted and disfigured. He further explained that there have been efforts of restoration of the vegetation and changes are being seen. The woodland has been replaced by pine plantations. This I hear is a contentious issue as many people prefer indigenous species trees to exotic ones. These areas are the industrial mining and iron areas of days past. The valleys have well maintained roads running the length of them, with spectacular views back down the valleys onto distant lowlands.
Picture of roads

There are old country villages in the surrounding vicinity and also former miner’s houses of which have been restored to a high standard though others still have an old age touch. Perhaps these homes themselves reveal most about the lives of workers in mine owners built houses for their workers, usually close to their homes.
Picture of a country Village

Picture of mine


There are also farm buildings and cottages. Many of these farmhouses or former miner houses were perfect for medium and large families. Most old houses have been altered over the years and therefore there is characteristic display of many architectural periods.

The road infrastructure is massive and well developed. Even a countryside road has a tarmac and on the road side are well labelled road signs. The good road infrastructure is as a result of the EU investing massively into the road and factory in all EU countries. My colleague Tom revealed that the EU has invested in the road infrastructure to attract investors into Wales which is less developed compared to England.

William, the tour guide at the Big Pit Mine explained that at the end of the 19th Century, Wales was one of the most important coal producing countries in the world. There were close to 600 collieries. He said at least 1 in 10 people were employed in the coal industry and largely many were dependent on it for a living.

Due to changes in industry on the world stage, by the end of the 20th century only one deep mine remained in Wales. Over a period of two centuries most collieries have closed except for Big Pit at Blaenavon.

In its heydays, Big Pit Deep Coal Mine employed 1300 people and produced over a quarter of a million tons of coal per year. Due to its significance in coal production then it has been preserved as a mining museum. Looking at the site and the buildings one would think coal mining is still taking place as the infrastructure is well preserved and buildings look modern.

William said the type of coal mined at Big Pit was coking coal. Due to its steam raising properties it was also put into the category of steam coal, for which Wales was famous. The steam coal had low percentage of sulphur and left little ash. Apart from coal there were deposits of iron and copper. Geologically coal seams were easier to mine. Limestone in smelting an ingredient was also available in the area. This with high rainfall to provide water power, clay and other requirements for iron making meant that the area was ideal for ironworks to be created.

Many mines were later opened to meet the demand for coal in the newly opened iron works. Three furnaces were constructed and in 1789 the first iron was produced. The Iron works at Blaenavon were the first multi-furnace works in Wales.

Big Pit sunk just before 1860 is an amalgamation of Forge level, Forge and the Coity Pits. The last coal face stopped work in 1979 and the colliery closed in 1980 due to the depletion of workable reserves.

Map Of Big PIT Mine

Coal seams that came close to the surface could be dug, straight from the ground. The method was called ‘patching’. It was cheap compared to underground mining. Later ‘drift’ mines were driven into hillsides to reach the coal or shallow shafts were sunk. Due to increased demand for coal as a result of the industrial revolution, extraction methods became increasing complex.

By 19th century mining of coal at Big Pit was by the pillar and stall system. The coal in this system was hewed out and filled into drams by the collier and his assistant while pillars of solid coal were left to support the roof. Later the Long Wall system was used whereby coal was extracted from a long continuous coal fire worked forward to remove all the coal in one operation. The coal was worked as follows:
1. Collier undercut the coal seam to make it loose
2. Coal was brought down manually or by explosives.
3. The coal was then loaded into wheeled drums using a curling box.

The collier and his assistant then supported the roof with timber. They also extended the railway system and repaired the access way to the work place.

Colliers were paid different rates for different types of work done. As is usually the case in many mines colliers were paid very little. Colliers dug coal using hand tools.

The mine was ventilated by the fan house. The ventilation system availed oxygen in the mine also removed unwanted gases, dust and fumes and provided a cooler and dryer environment for miners to work in. The furnaces warmed the stale air, which then rose up these shafts to be replaced by fresh air drawn down the shaft that we also descended on the visit. The fan house was manned twenty four hours a day. The Big Pit fan House also accommodated a telephone exchange for the mine.
Picture of Fan House

Among the important workers William talked about was the shots man. He was responsible for charging up the shot holes drilled by workmen, testing for gas and generally ensuring that the explosives were used safely. There were also blacksmiths who made drums, rail junctions, pipes, pick, shovel spanners, hammers and horse shoes. Horses were also part of the workforce on the surface and underground. The stables for the horses underground are still there today and we visited them on the tour. A man who worked with horse-drawn transport underground was called a haulier. One disturbing thing I learnt about was the use of young children as workers on the mine and worse still underground including women. This group of workers provided most mine haulage. These children mostly were aged between five and eleven years old. They worked as door boys and girls or trappers. They opened and closed ventilation doors underground to allow men and coal pass through. These children worked up to fourteen hours a day-often in complete darkness. Children who were older say, 14-17 years old often worked as hammers, moving the drams or sledges of coal to the main roadways that lead out of the mine.

Quote from Susan Reece, aged 6, Plymouth mines, “I have been below six or eight months and I don’t like it much. I come here at six in the morning and leave at six at night. When my lamp goes out, or I am hungry, I run home”. Source (National Museum, Wales, 2005, P33).

Quote from Benjamin Thomas, aged 8 Broadmoor Colliery, Pembrokeshire: “The work is very hard and I am running all day. My father is dead and my mother works in the colliery with my sister and three brothers. None of the boys in this pit wear shoes”. (National Museum, Wales, 2005, P32).

To me this is sheer child abuse of the worst kind. Whatever the reason for use of children and women in the mines it was grossly unfair and shockingly they were subjected to harsh conditions and hardships. As if not enough women had to attend to house chores and childcare after working long hours in the mines.

To some women being a collier’s wife meant experiencing worst fears of possibly a husband, son or daughter being brought home injured or dead. The general health condition or otherwise in the mines were very dangerous for both men and women including children. For women pregnancy and child-birth and general poor living conditions as well as heavy domestic labour were a huge burden.

On the positive, the coal mines provided employment to a large number of people in the surrounding villages and from afar. Mining of coal attracted light mining industries where women began to work after the 1940s. Hypothetically, this had a toll on the general life expectancy on the population of the mining communities of the valley.
Picture from church grave yard showing age variations since 1800s

Social benefits like construction of hospital at Blaenavon, houses for miners, roads etc. There was also recreation facilities were miners would meet for social interaction. Men would intermix and help each other out. There was a sense of comradeship and miners would go to rugby matches and concerts together. There were shops all around.

Interestingly, I found in William similarities with what I have known to be one of the major aspects of a miner’s life. He liked talking just like our Zambian miners. More so, he had such an appreciable amount of humour. He seemed very proud of his achievements as a former miner.

I wanted to know what the future has for Blaenavon; all he said ‘was there is no hope here. It is even better to go away’. At this point he handed us over to another guide who explained how bad the employment situation is in the area and other social consequences. Many teenagers do not want to work and only want to drink beer and hang out. He says some teenagers want to move away to other places like England and do not even wish to work in a coal mine. The closure of the mines has had a serious impact on the area as a whole.

Coal mining led to pollution and degradation of streams and ground water. Hillside vegetation was cleared and wildlife runaway. Mine waste dumping, oil spills, scarring and disruption of the land surface was visible around Big Pit. There were problems of ill-health due to respiratory diseases as a result of air pollution.

The legacy of those harsh industrial years remains even though the buildings have long since crumbled and the scenery is now softened by greenery in some parts.

The tour to Big Pit Coal Mine Museum echoes the parallels that are there with Mines in Chingola. The effects of mining on the environment are vivid in both community and this brought challenges to coal miners and copper miners are facing the same fate. The closure of the mines in Zambia definitely will bring about challenges among residents as employment will not be readily available. The signs of social breakdown are everywhere in Chingola as infrastructure like roads have become seriously pot-holed. Recreation facilities are no longer a centre of attraction for miners. The reason is the detachment from provisions of such facilities by the owners of the mine who only have interest in making profits. The pertinent questions to ask are: what are the prospects for the future generation in the mining industry, what will be the main economic activities, what about infrastructure development like roads, housing, and factories?

Is the AU or is it COMESA going to provide funds to improve infrastructure in Zambia as the EU has done in Wales? Well this to me is a very interesting question.

The pleasing thing about former mining areas in Wales is the landscaping and replanting of trees to restore vegetation that has been embarked on. Nevertheless some areas are still bare.

In Bridgend


After the long tour to the Big Pit we travelled back to Bridgend and had our lunch on the way. We later proceeded to the beach. Unfortunately the temperatures were too low for me and could not dare jump into the sea water for a swim or surfing. The view of the sea was spectacular with the water slowly washing the edges of the beach. There were many people who included Tom’s family .Oh yes we met a lovely couple in Kevin and Emma Price. They welcomed me so warmly and I had an insight of the hospitality of Welsh people. Kevin is an Engineer with the council and Emma is a geography teacher at Pencoed Comprehensive School.
The beach is utilised for social gatherings like picnics and parties. Sadly merry-makers throw food remnants, paper ,plastics and other solid waste without regard about the dangers of such to the environment.
The day ended just around 18;00 hours when we went home and I was treated to well proper Welsh Traditional Sunday roast dinner. The food was sumptuous and I must confess Ree is a good cook.

‘Soweto’ Interviews

3 April 2007 by

The following interview is with two residents of ‘Soweto’, a shanty compound on the outskirts of Chingola (Named after the South African township). To find out more about the shanty compound view the day 7 post.

Download interviews (14MB)




21 March 2007 by

Many children in ‘Soweto’ compound are AIDS orphans, with many households headed by an older sibling. In this situation it is often impossible for these children to go to school as there is not enough money to pay their fees. If you have found any resources useful you might want to think about making a donation. All the money raised will help send a child to Kabundi High School where they will be given every chance of a bright future.

Donate here (via Pay Pal)

Kapisha children