Why the Name: Lubumbashi?

Map of DRC with Lubumbashi highlighted

Have you ever wondered what the name of the second largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lubumbashi, meant? Well, growing up, I always loved the sound of it as it rolled off the tongue: LUBUMBASHI: so full of power… so full of ummph, like thunder! So do you think the name has anything to do with power? or thunder?

Express to Rhodesia from Elisabethville’s train station (trains-worldexpresses.com)

The area as it is known today has been inhabited for centuries, but the modern-day city itself  was ‘founded’ by the Belgians in 1910 under the name of Élisabethville (sometimes Elizabethville, both in French, or Elisabethstad in Dutch), in honor of their queen Elisabeth, wife to king Albert I. It was affectionately referred to as É-Ville. It was the second city of the Belgian Congo, after Léopoldville. Élisabethville functioned as the administrative capital of the Katanga Province. It was also an important mining, commercial and industrial center, and a center of education and health services. The work and businesses related to the mines made Élisabethville the most prosperous region of the Congo during the final decade of Belgian rule. Today it is the mining capital of the entire country, with its production in copper, cobalt, zinc, gold, Tin, etc.

Malachite specimen from Katanga, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum (Wikipedia)

In 1965Mobutu Sese Seko with his campaign to identify himself with African nationalism or “Zairianization” politics assumed power of Congo, which he renamed Zaïre. In this push, he renamed Élisabethville as “Lubumbashi” in 1966 and, in 1972 renamed the Katanga Province as “Shaba.” It was named Lubumbashi after the local river by the same name Lubumbashi. It is also called the copper capital. Copper mining in Katanga dates back over 1,000 years and mines in the region were producing standard sized ingots of copper for international transport by the end of the 1st Millennium AD.

Aerial view of Lubumbashi (Source: Aerocam Congo)

As was customary in sub-Saharan colonies, the city center of Élisabethville was reserved for the white (European-Only Neighborhoods in African Cities before Independence) population. This consisted mainly of Belgian nationals, but also British, Italian, and Jewish Greek communities. The black population lived initially in a so-called cité indigène called quartier Albert (now: Kamalondo), south of the city center and separated from the white city by a 700-metres-wide neutral zone. With population growth, new indigenous neighborhoods were created. These still form the main suburbs of present-day Lubumbashi: Kenia, Katuba, Ruashi. In addition to these 3, 4 more communes have been added to this day: Kamalondo, Kampemba, Lubumbashi, and la Commune Annexe.

Fountain at the Place Moise Tshombe in Lubumbashi (Source: Congo-Autrement)

Today, the city of Lubumbashi is affectionately called by locals, L’shi or Lubum, and its inhabitants are known as the Lushois. French is the official language, but the main language spoken by most is Kiswahili. Lubumbashi lies at high altitude at about 1,208 meters (3,963 ft) above sea level, which gives rise to a cooler climate. It is a cosmopolitan city, with people from all over Congo, neighboring countries, and Europeans, Chinese, Americans, etc who mostly come for the mining industry; this has given rise to a gastronomical melting pot as well. The city is also host to one of Africa’s greatest soccer club: The  TP Mazembe (Tout Puissant Mazembe). The club’s chairman is former Katanga governor Moïse Katumbi Chapwe. It is a vibrant city. To learn more about Lubumbashi, the cosmopolitan city named after its local river, check out the articles  Lubumbashi urban mosaic, Presentation of Lubumbashi. Enjoy the video below on Lubumbashi, the mining capital of DRC!

7 thoughts on “Why the Name: Lubumbashi?

    1. Yes… Swahili is the main language in Lubumbashi, as well as in a lot of countries in East Africa. So you will be gaining a lot, and will be able to travel to many places speaking the lingua franca of the place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s right. I just started to learn some African languages and French recently. Swahili is definitely on my radar. I do know 5 countries have Swahili as official language status, and I did hear about other countries having it as secondary and lingua franca status, too.


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