A medical history of African mineworkers at Kabwe mine,1904-1964
Few subjects have attracted as much scholarly attention during the colonial period in Zambia as African mineworkers. Most historical works that discuss the activities of this influential labour group have approached it from the prisms of their struggle or constant clashes with mining capital or their role in negotiating political change, particularly the transition from colonial rule to independence. The examination of the health of mineworkers however, has surprisingly been a neglected area of study, notwithstanding the fact that it was a vital component of productivity. Another major characteristic of studies on mineworkers in colonial Zambia is their exclusive focus on the Copperbelt, as if that was the only area in the territory where African miners were found. Set against this narrow background, this study examines the health of African mineworkers at Kabwe Mine, the first mine to be opened in colonial Zambia, and the changing attitude of mining companies towards their plight from 1904 to 1964. The study shows a consistent interaction between the demand for lead and zinc on the international market and the health of African mineworkers in colonial Zambia. It argues that in times of economic decline or conflict, such as during the worldwide recession of the 1930s, mining authorities paid little attention to the health of their African employees. Thus, such periods witnessed high incidence of disease such as malaria, influenza, tuberculosis, lead poisoning and those induced by poor diet like malnutrition. The dissertation shows that when the demand and price of zinc and lead increased, such as during and after the Second World War, company authorities invested in the health of their African employees in order to maintain production and generate increased revenue. It also shows that, increased production during and after the Second World War raised the threat of industrial diseases such as lead poisoning and tuberculosis. By focussing on African mineworkers outside the Copperbelt and a subject unrelated to economic concerns, the study contributes to the history of labour in colonial Zambia, further highlighting the role of public health in it.