I lived in Kitwe/Nkana from 1951 to 1968.
I went to Prince Charles Primary, Frederick Knapp and Llewelyn High, before starting an apprenticeship with Rhokana Mine.
So I was there for the majority of my youth.
In 1968, I moved to Johannesburg in South Africa and got married.
In 1974, I moved to Durban where I have been ever since.
Memories of my life in Northern Rhodesia and Zambia, will stay with me for my whole life. I’m sure most of your other correspondents will say much the same, as it truly was a special place which became part of one’s emotional and mental make up. I have corresponded with people in Canada, Australia, the US, the UK and South Africa and all unanimously, not withstanding their present circumstances, state that those were the best years of their lives.
Some small items that invoke memories are, the smell of paraffin, which will always remind me of the tiny fridges, which were placed in all the mine houses; ‘Klim’ powdered milk, which practically everybody drank because of the shortage of safe fresh milk; the smell of sulphur, brings back vivid memories of the slag being poured on the dump and its stark beauty at night as it ran in red rivers down the dump. It was almost a tourist attraction and obligatory for all newcomers to town to witness at least once, not that anyone after witnessing the spectacle ever complained.
My parents divorced when I was five years old and my two older brothers and myself went to live with my father in Nkana. For a year we lived cramped up, in various ‘single quarters’ on the mine, until my father was able to make a plan and get allocated a house at the bottom end of Princess Street.
It was a good four mile ride on my small bicycle to Fredrick Knapp School, but I cannot remember anything negative about my riding to and from school. In fact if one compares the distance I travelled each day, with our modern society, where children are carted everywhere by their parents, I was probably a lot more fit and healthy.
Of course, the world we live in is a lot more dangerous and there are a lot more sick people wandering around waiting to pray on youthful innocence, than I would ever have dreamed of in my perfect little world, where I could safely wander many miles from my home at any time day or night, without my father having any fears for my safety.
The bush was within walking distance of my house and with the Kafue river just a short bike ride away, my friends and I spent many happy days exploring and fishing, completely oblivious of any dangers such as crocodiles and snakes.
These were things we didn’t think about, unless we actually happened to see them which did happen on a number of occasions and we were suitably terrified, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for generally just enjoying life.
There was one dangerous practice that we indulged in and that was playing on the slimes dams.
This was expressly forbidden, because the dams were not stable, but with the bravado of youth we totally ignored all the warnings and threats from parents and the corporation and consequently we had quite a few narrow escapes. However we simply put this down to experience and some of the badges of life.
After primary school where I received some of the best education avaiable, a fact I only came to really appreciate much later in life, I attended boarding school in S.A. for four years and the four day train trip in each direction was definitely something I always looked forward to. By the time finished my last year at Llewellyn High in Kitwe, my father was retired and raising chickens while living on a small holding in Garneton, where many diverse people were carving out a life for themselves in the bush.
I think that at this juncture, I must make a point about the people that inhabited the town and its surrounds. They came from so many different countries, with different mother tongues, but the universal language was English and nobody objected. In the entire time I lived in the country, from growing up and early adulthood, I never once encountered anything but friendliness from these people of different cultures and backgrounds.
There is one aspect in particular I have often ruminated over in my latter years, and that was the total religious tolerance of everyone to each other. It really did not matter one iota what your religious convictions might be, you were judged and accepted on your actions and attitude. A lesson the world would do well to learn.
My apprenticeship on Rhokana Mine was also equal to, if not better than I could have got anywhere else in the world.I lived in the mine’s single quarters for five years, sort of going back to my roots, which was within walking distance of the Mine Club and the Mine Mess. Eating at the ‘mess’ was cheap and over time developed into a real love/hate relationship for me. The food was varied and quite palatable, but there were occasions when for example the cabbage in the Bain Marie’s would be a bright emerald green, from the food colouring that had been added which made one avoid it at all cost. I would avoid things like curries, because they only came on the menu some four days after a roast had been on the menu and two days after a stew. They were well ahead in the recycling stakes!
There was an instance when a newly arrived young man from the UK, whom I befriended, went to the mess for the first time. Seeing the curry, which just looked like mince, he asked what it was and when I told him, he was quite surprised and asked what ‘curry’ was. After I had explained as best I could and warned him off the concoction, he insisted on trying it.
It took all of one mouthful for him to appreciate what I had warned him against !
I seem to have become somewhat carried away with my memories and beg your forgiveness.
Slimes dams ( also called ‘tailings’ dams ) were/are, the by-product of the mine’s mineral extraction process. The finely ground rock was chemically treated and the minerals extracted and then the remaining slurry was pumped through pipes to a previously prepared area and the immense white dams/dumps tinged with yellow from the chemicals still in the sand, were built up in layers over the years as the mixture dried. Because there was no physical compacting of the ‘tailings’ the dams were similar to sand dunes, quite solid to the touch but unstable if burrowed into. So guess what? Of course we used to do just that, making little caves in the side of the dams where we spent many happy hours fantasising about robbers caves etc. with scant consideration for the possibility of a cave-in, or getting sick from coming in contact with the chemicals in the sand. Unfortunately a number of youngsters lost their lives when their caves collapsed, hence the strict warnings from both the corporation and parents.
Another incident I experienced with my brothers, was where my eldest brother was almost lost in ‘quick sand’ on one of the dams. It was only by good fortune that there happened to be some other older boys nearby, who came to his rescue that he wasn’t actually sucked down. A really close call, which we did acknowledge by avoiding that particular spot, but that didn’t stop us playing in other areas.
One particular dam was about 100 plus feet high and had eroded into canyons, with spectacularly high walls and ridges, which were great for playing ‘cowboys’.
Also my one brother was into model aircraft and built a glider with a 5 ft wingspan which he would launch from the top of the canyon and we would watch it glide until it reached the canyon floor.
All very exciting stuff for young boys!
The time frame for all those escapades was roughly 1951 to 1957.
We certainly lived dangerously, especially for young children.
Another extremely dangerous pastime was going to the mine scrapyard, handing over a packet of cigarettes to the old watchman and getting a whole bunch of detonators which were about the size and shape of a cigarette. On one occasion, we got a whole box full in their original packing. These were easily set off by touching the wires to either end of a torch battery.
To avoid any confusion, I must point out that these were usually acquired by my eldest brother, who was seven years older than myself. Some of our activities with these explosives were, blasting holes in the slimes dam to make caves, blasting frogs and fish in the streams and Kafue river. The tower of water when a bunch of these detonators were wrapped together and tossed into the river was quite impressive. There were some ‘accidents’ and one guy lost a bunch of fingers and an eye, when he stuffed some detonators into his bicycle’s handlebars and set them off.
I mentioned earlier about us playing ‘cowboys’ on/in the slimes dams and would like to point out that many times we played these games using pellet guns! The object of these games was to shoot as close as possible to your opponent, so as to raise a small dust cloud. (just like in the movies) Talk about ‘stupid’ ?
Interestingly, in the early 1950’s, many people used bicycles as their main means of transport and in our case, my dad only bought a car in about 1953.
In those days ( 1950’s ) the Copper Bonus was so high, that many men would walk into a dealership, pick out a car and hand over their Bonus cheque and get change before driving off in their new car. Some people did this every year ! Those were really very different times.