Capital of Katanga Province and second city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it owes its name to a small river.
When the railroad from Cape Town through Rhodesia approached the Belgian Congo, the colonial government wished to avoid an influx of British colonists from the south. Thus in 1908 the seat of the Comite Special du Katanga (CSK) was transferred from Lukonzolwa on Lake Moeru toward the southern border. Cdts Tanneau and Emile Wangermee set up camp on the Kafubu
River. In 1910 a permanent government post was established on its tributary, the Lubumbashi.
In contrast, Union Miniere du Haut-Katanga, which had begun exploratory drilling at Kambove, was thrilled to find the railhead reaching Ndola near the Rhodesian-Congolese border in 1908. It therefore decided to begin work with the Congo Star mine near the Kafubu, as it would be first to have rail links, facilitating ore and metal transport.
Circumstances thus favored the creation of Elisa-bethville, now Lubumbashi. Wangermee, representative of the CSK, was named vice governor-general for Katanga on July 29, 1910. He refused to move to Kambove, chosen by the government of the Belgian Congo as capital of Katanga. By then construction of the city had already begun, as the copper refinery required a water supply; the railroad, at the Sakania border in 1909, reached Elisabethville September 27 and the Congo Star mine on October 1. On September 1, the government had named Elisabethville Katanga’s capital in place of Kambove, and on November 9 Wangermee signed documents giving it the status of “urban district.” The name honored Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, who had accompanied Albert I to the Belgian Congo before his accession to the throne, visiting the Congo Star mine.
Elisabethville served as capital of Katanga province from 1910, as headquarters of the district of the Upper Luapula (later Upper Katanga) from 1912 to 1929 and from 1932 to 1961, as headquarters of the territory of the same name from 1912 to 1956, and an urban district from 1929 to 1932 and 1956 to 1957. It received the status of city in 1941, modified by law in 1957. The city seal, bearing the words Ex imis ad culmina (from the depths to the heights) was registered in 1954.
Lubumbashi had been laid out by South African advisers on a site chosen by Wangermee, aided by the Swiss engineer Itten on the peneplain east of the Lubumbashi River. Thus there were two separate cities, one white (today’s commune of Lubumbashi plus Bel-Air) and the other the native quarter. The region between the two cities was reserved for public buildings, churches, hospital, schools, and a prison operated by whites for Africans. The white quarter was reserved for Belgians and those assimilated to them, with darker-skinned foreigners (Arabs, Indians, Sephardic Jews, Greeks, Italians) living in peripheral areas such as Bakoa and Ndjandja. During the colonial period, racial segregation extended to two adjoining cemeteries.
Reserved for blacks and created by ordinance in 1912, the native city was moved away from the white section during the depression and transformed into an incorporated centre extra-coutumier in 1932. It eventually grew into four townships: Albert I (now Kamalondo, begun 1921), Kenya (1941), Katuba (1950), and Ruashi (1954), plus the rural satellite town of Karavia. In 1957 the city was divided into five communes, one for Europeans and the four for Africans. The inhabitants of each elected a council that chose the mayor; no Katangese was selected among the four African townships, with most of the mayors Kasaians.
The Katangese reacted by creating CONAKAT (Confederation of Katangese Tribal Associations) under the presidency of Godefoid Munongo of the Yeke royal family. In the 1960 elections most of those who were to become leaders of the secessionist Katanga government were initially elected as CONAKAT provincial deputies from Elisabethville districts including Tshombe, Munongo, and Kibwe.
In 1970 the Mobutu government renamed the capitals of Congo and its provinces during Mobutu’s “Authenticity” campaign, and Elisabethville retook the name of the original government post by the stream.
As in other African cities, most of the city’s growth has come during the last forty years, after Congo’s independence. In 1970 the commune of Kampemba was separated from that of Lubumbashi (ex-Elisabeth), and in 1977 the outlying Commune Annexe was created. Particularly during the Second Republic, numerous shanty towns appeared around the city, including: Cinq-Ans/Kasungami, Zaire, Kigoma, Madame Jeanne/ Masangoshi/Quartier Six, Kawama, Zambia, Naviundu, Bongonga, Kinkalabwamba, Tabacongo, Kalebuka, CampAssistants, Kimbwambwa, Kalubwe, Foire, Katuba Mbujimayi, Katuba Gbadolite, and Katuba Kisanga.
From its inception, the city of Lubumbashi has played a variety of roles. It was both an industrial town, based on the copper smelter using ores from mines outside the city, and a political nexus as the administrative center of the wealthiest province in the country. The rail and road border crossings from Rhodesia remained rural outposts, ensuring that Lubumbashi was the customs and distribution pole for the southeastern third of Congo, with which it had rail links. Since 1956, with the opening of the Universite Officielle du Congo et du Ruanda-Urundi (now the Universite de Lubumbashi), it has been an academic center, with several other institutions of higher education also present. It has an international airport, opened in 1958, the site originally having been an overnight stop on flights between Europe and South Africa in the days of propeller planes and visual navigation.
The city had a population of 754 Europeans in December 1910; 1,200 in 1912; 2,483 in 1925; and 20,000 in 1960. The African population stood at 8,000 in 1912; 13,990 in 1923; 32,637 in 1929; and 161,000 in 1960. The population in 2000 was approximately two million.
The best-known symbols of the city are the tall refinery chimney and the pyramid of slag towering over
The city. Major architectural landmarks include Governor’s Residence and Imara and Twendelee schools (1910s), Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, Makutano Club, Jerusalem United Methodist Church, and the Jewish synagogue (1920s), the courthouse and Mazembe stadium (1930s), the post office, former CSK headquarters, the theater, St. Mary’s Basilica, and the railway headquarters (1950s), Gecamines tower and the two hospitals (1960s), and Hotel Karavia and Mobutu Stadium (1970s).
Michel Lwamba Bilonda
Fetter, B. S. “African Associations in Elisabethville: Their Origins and Development.” Etudes d’Histoire Africaine. 6 (1974): 205-223.
-. The Creation of Elisabethville, 1910-1940. Stanford:
Hoover Institution, 1976.