Home Articles General Kolwezi.
Kolwezi. Print E-mail
Written by Clive Horner   
Saturday, 13 June 2009 15:05


It is a small town situated in Shaba province (I make no apologies for spelling mistakes it was a long time ago). At the time I was working and living in Zambia.. However I had a friend his name was Gordon, I knew he was a business man but had no idea of what he was involved in. Any how to cut a long story short I will move on.

We were at the bar in the local boat club in Kitwe ( Mindola Dam of course ) and Gordon was to say the least a little upset. It turned out that he had this contract in Zaire which he could not complete as his electrician had come to UK and never returned. I asked Gordon what kind of work was he involved in, just maybe I could help.

This was to be the start of my first visit to Zaire. It appears he was involved in the rebuilds of 100 and 150 mining trucks as used in open caste mining. Could I help him out, no idea. However I was intending to leave my present company and to be honest he was offering really good money. I did say I have never worked on this type of equipment before, I really don’t know. I had met many people over the years as my work was building and maintaining power lines across the Zambian Copperbelt. I still was not to sure, to get involved in something that I had no knowledge of needed thinking about.

I drove out to Chingola mine, I knew many people there and spent the day with the staff at the mechanical workshop. The end result was and I quote ( you won’t have a problem it’s just a little knowledge and common sense ).

I will get to the point, so there I was saying OK lets go. I left for Zaire the next day and we drove to Kolwezi, it was a long trip, hard and dusty to say the least plus of course we had to cross two border posts. (not easy in those days).

We then drove on into Zaire, now we have to change from left to right. Zambia was British, Zaire French Speaking not a good start, however we carried on and arrived in Kolwezi. It was a long hot and dusty drive but we made it. I really was hot, dusty and tired. However we had arrived.

Next day I would meet the guys I would be working with. None of that which I have written bears any relevance to the town, it only explains how I came to be there. It was a strange place to be, it was as if time stood still.

Much of which I write now is hearsay, some years before I arrived the town had been attacked by guerrilla fighters from Angola who wanted to annex the province to their country as there was a lot of wealth to be had. They moved across the border and killed everyone they came across, there was little opposition, after all it was a peaceful mining community. They killed all, men, woman and children some only babies. It was a terrifying time for all who lived there and not many survived the onslaught. At the time I was there I met one or two who had survived, their lives would never be the same, it was horrific and many still bear the scars of the events that took place.

When you drive out of town there is a roundabout, there is no where to go, one straight road but there is a turning to the right. If one takes the time and stop for a while it leads to the cemetery where as you walk between the graves they are all there men, women and children. They were not fighting a war, just family people leading a family life.( just in the wrong place at the wrong time ).

Whatever once again I digress. Over many weeks I got to know the people of Kolwezi well, such happy guy’s, for all they had been through they could still smile, after all life could only get better. I found the people so friendly and spent a great amount of time with them. We were working for the mine and were well cared for and paid in UK but we did get a local allowance, we had nothing to spend our money on apart from fags, we both smoked. Once we had bought our fags we would always have lots of monopoly money left.

We had by this time got to know the locals quite well and it was nothing to see us walking down the street surrounded by kids of all ages, many who were starving. They were great none tried to scrounge, none harassed us, they were just there. There was at that time only one café still open in town where we would stop after work, chill and have a coffee, always surrounded by kids of all ages. They appeared to enjoy our company and we enjoyed their company. We had so much of the monopoly we couldn’t spend it. Twice a week we would go down to the local stores, there were only two still open. The rest derelict. I don’t wish to sound that we were doing anyone any favours but we did have all this monopoly money which we could not take out of the country, we would go in the stores and buy everything they had to offer in the way of food which trust me was not a great deal. We would then take what we had bought outside and hand it out to the kids. They were never greedy, never fought, just accepted what we had to offer.

I am now making out that life was hard but not for us. We had our oasis, where we could leave the world behind and just chill. There was a private club in town where if we wished we could get away from life as we did on occasions. It was while in the club I met an American (Mike) such a nice guy. I should really stop here because for the non technical the rest will mean nothing. Zaire at that time had only one of two in the world. A DC transmission line, something rarely heard of and not seen by many. Mike was the superintendent of the inverter station and invited myself and George out to stay for the weekend. Not much more to say, it was unreal and the experience of a lifetime.

The people of Kolwezi I fell in love with, they went through so much and yet came up smiling.

Why is it those who have nothing can be so friendly and happy and yet those that have it all can’t.

I made two trips to Kolwezi in 1983 and 1984 each of three months duration and it was an experience I will never forget.