Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

by Naomi Haynes

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Drawing on two years of ethnographic research, Naomi Haynes explores Pentecostal Christianity in the kind of community where it often flourishes: a densely populated neighborhood in the heart of an extraction economy. On the Zambian Copperbelt, Pentecostal adherence embeds believers in relationships that help them to “move” and progress in life. These efforts give Copperbelt Pentecostalism its particular local character, shaping ritual practice, gender dynamics, and church economics. Focusing on the promises and problems that Pentecostalism presents, Moving by the Spirit highlights this religion’s role in making life possible in structurally adjusted Africa.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520294240
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Series: The Anthropology of Christianity , #22
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Naomi Haynes is a Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. She is coeditor of the Current Anthropology special issue The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions and of the Social Analysis special issue Hierarchy, Values, and the Value of Hierarchy.  She is also co-curator of the Anthropology of Christianity Bibliographic Blog at

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Moving by the Spirit

Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

By Naomi Haynes


Copyright © 2017 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-96743-4


Boom and Bust, Revival and Renewal

The Copperbelt is, to borrow a turn of phrase from one of the reviewers of this book, one of anthropology's "longstanding laboratories" (see also Schumaker 2001: 75–116). Ethnographers have been working in this particular province of what is now Zambia for nearly a century, and have left behind an extraordinary body of work. In particular, beginning in 1937 anthropologists associated with the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute (RLI), the first social science research institute established in Africa, did pioneering studies that fundamentally shaped scholarly understanding of the region. Through their analyses of urbanization, the shifting relational patterns associated with wage labor, and the apparently fading importance of ethnic loyalties, RLI researchers fixed the Copperbelt in the anthropological imagination as a site in which to examine social change. Insofar as this is the case, for anthropologists the Copperbelt has served as an idea as much as a location. While the classic studies of the RLI and subsequent research in urban Zambia inform the discussion that follows, I do not attempt to provide a survey of Copperbelt anthropology here. This has already been very ably done both with regard to the theoretical contributions of the Manchester School (Werbner 1984) and the research culture of the RLI (Schumaker 2001). My more modest aim in this chapter is simply to capture the Copperbelt as I have found it, and more specifically to paint a picture of Nsofu, the Kitwe neighborhood that provides the context for my analysis.

Kitwe residents generally regard Nsofu as a "middle-class" township, which in Zambia means that it is a place where a sizable number of residents are in formal-sector (if not necessarily salaried) employment. While living in Nsofu is not the same as living in one of the high-status, "low-density" neighborhoods of Parklands or Riverside, it is a significant improvement on life in a shantytown or former mine townships like Buchi or Wuzakile. This means that Nsofu is an aspirational place. Poor people move to Nsofu in hopes of escaping some of the scourges of shantytown life, while those with greater means are attracted to the township because it offers the opportunity for them to construct their own homes, as it is one of the places in Kitwe where the city council is offering plots for new houses. Construction of a new home may seem like a different sort of aspiration from renting a few rooms in Nsofu, but both strategies are of a piece, part of a large-scale social project through which rich and poor alike seek to make moving happen.

Recent work on middle-class experience and identity in sub-Saharan Africa has highlighted the "uneasy privilege" (Sumich 2016: 5) that accompanies a higher class status than that enjoyed by most people on the continent. In part this unease is a function of the overabundance of qualified labor alongside a shortage of permanent jobs. A great deal of formal sector employment in places like the Copperbelt is offered on a contract basis, which translates into a lack of job security even for educated professionals (Spronk 2012: 64–76). Middleclass identity is also precarious insofar as it is increasingly propped up by debt, which finances the purchases that index economic status (James 2015). Finally, the greatest source of insecurity for the middle class is the obligation to care for an ever-widening network of kin and neighbors (Sumich 2016). As we will see in this chapter, the obligation that follows from one's status as a middle-class person is written into the very built environment of Nsofu.

My description in this chapter focuses on those features of Nsofu that make it a particularly good place to make moving happen, namely, the economic diversity of the township and its large number of Pentecostal congregations. Economic diversity is relevant because moving is most often realized through social relationships that span differences in status, particularly economic status. Similar relational asymmetries are found in Pentecostal congregations, the second aspect of Nsofu life that helps to facilitate moving. Before going on to explore these elements, however, I must first take a moment to update the Copperbelt ethnographic record, so to speak, and in so doing help to set it straight.


It is safe to say that if anthropologists have read one book about the Copperbelt, they have read James Ferguson's Expectations of Modernity (1999). Ferguson carried out fieldwork in Kitwe in the late 1980s, a time of economic crisis triggered by a rapid drop in copper prices alongside a global spike in the cost of fuel. Real incomes fell dramatically during this period, as did most metrics of development. In the light of these circumstances, Ferguson's treatment focuses on the apparent reversal of the "modernist metanarrative," as he dubs the view that the Copperbelt had been on track for its own industrial revolution (see Ferguson 1999: 16). Faced instead with the prospect of lower incomes, less education, and shorter life expectancies than his informants' parents had known, the Copperbelt seemed to be heading "down, down, down," as one resident put it (Ferguson 1999: 13).

During the time of Ferguson's fieldwork, the population of the Copperbelt was shrinking, and he relates the experiences of several miners who moved to rural villages after losing their jobs in town. Over the years I've had several colleagues ask, upon hearing that I work on the Copperbelt, if anyone still lived there; the impression they had was that people had more or less cleared out when the bottom fell out of the economy in the 1980s. I'm sure that this question was asked with at least a bit of irony, but it nevertheless suggests that Ferguson's analysis has fixed the Copperbelt in the minds of many anthropologists as a place of desolation and despair. In part, this impression can be attributed to the very particular moment at which he did his fieldwork — though, as I noted in the introduction, it also reflects a disciplinary emphasis on the cultural semiotics of economic crisis. There is, however, more to the story of the Copperbelt than what Expectations reveals, as a quick glance at the region's subsequent economic history makes clear.

The downward turn in the Zambian economy continued for years after Ferguson finished his fieldwork. Structural adjustment measures implemented in the 1990s succeed in curbing inflation, but at tremendous human costs; the result was widespread unemployment and a massive increase in overall poverty levels, despite rising economic growth rates (Bloemen 2016). By 1998, 71 percent of the Zambian population was living below the poverty line (McCulloch et al. 2000). The Zambian writer Binwell Sinyangwe captures the mood of this period in his novella A Cowrie of Hope (2000: 14):

These were the nineties. The late nineties. They were lean years. They were the years of each person for himself and hope only under the shadow of the gods. No one wanted to give because no one had anything to spare. The rains were bad and so the crops and the harvest were bad too. Without what to sell from the fields people had no money. Even chiefs and headmen who usually had a grain or two more than the ordinary people, roamed the land without an ngwee in hand. The days were truly hard.

Eventually, however, Zambia's fortunes began to change. Between 2000 and 2005 the price of copper, Zambia's primary export, increased on the global market by 102.9 percent, owing primarily to a massive growth in demand for primary product exports in China (Zafar 2007). In 2006 China opened one of the first manufacturing special economic zones in Africa on the Copperbelt (there is another in Lusaka), further cementing the central role that Chinese investment has played in the Zambian economy since the turn of the century. Between 2002 and 2005, GDP grew by 4.7 percent per annum (Central Statistical Office 2006). GDP is of course a poor measure of individual welfare, but when I first moved to the Copperbelt in 2003 I found some signs of this growth in the experiences of people I got to know in the city of Chingola. An example here is the young family of a miner I call Bashi Mumba. Bashi Mumba's wife had trained as a schoolteacher and, in an entrepreneurial move common in the aftermath of structural adjustment, had opened her own primary school in a former mining township. The couple owned a small Toyota sedan, of which they were immensely proud, and their living room contained a large television set. They were financing the tertiary education of Bana Mumba's brother, in addition to caring for their own children. The future, in short, looked very bright.

This period of steady growth was abruptly cut short by the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, an ominous phrase that people on the Copperbelt soon replaced with the shorthand English term "global." When the price of copper on the international market fell precipitously in 2008, the number of mining jobs in Zambia was reduced by 27 percent (Ndulo et al. 2009: 21). This number does not include those who were employed on a contract basis, who represent a significant number of those working in the mining sector; since contract labor was greatly reduced during the crisis, even a conservative estimate of the number of contract jobs lost dramatically increases the number of people left unemployed by the global (Ndulo et al. 2009: 19). In addition, the value of the kwacha declined sharply during this period, depreciating by roughly 40 percent against the dollar between October 2008 and April 2009 (te Velde et al. 2010: 52). The primary effect of the drop in the kwacha's value was an increase in the price of imports. A sizable number of those employed in the informal sector purchase their wares outside of Zambia, and as the kwacha lost value, much of this transborder trade ground to a halt; where it did continue, increased expenses on the supply side meant much higher costs for customers. Sales on the Copperbelt, already hurt by layoffs, were further hampered by rising prices.

Since the crisis of 2008–2009, the Copperbelt economy has witnessed further periods of expansion and contraction. Returning to Nsofu in 2013 I found the vacant land surrounding the township filled with dozens of new houses in the latest styles. As we will see, ongoing construction in Nsofu ensures the continued economic diversity of the township, as partially finished houses provide ready accommodation for the community's poor. My neighbors pointed to the new houses and cars with pride, seeing in them a clear marker that their community was moving. This period of visible development was short-lived, however, and by 2015 Forbes reported that the kwacha was the worst performing currency in the world (Guest 2015). At the time of this writing (2016), the kwacha has recovered again, thanks primarily to an increase in copper prices.

In short, the economic history of the Copperbelt, not only since Ferguson's writing, but also well before it (Macmillan 1993), has been characterized by regular cycles of boom and bust. In an economy dominated by a single commodity it could hardly be otherwise, as the changing fortunes of the mines send regular waves of prosperity and penury rolling across neighborhoods like Nsofu. Returning to Ferguson's work, it is clear that the downturn of the 1980s did not, as he thought, trigger an upending of the modernist metanarrative, an end to Copperbelt life as the people who lived there knew it. It was simply one very difficult moment in a volatile political economy that has historically been marked as much by "ingenuity, resourcefulness, and essential optimism" (Macmillan 1993: 712) as by despair and "abjection," a key term in Ferguson's analysis. Indeed, one could argue that the periodic disruption of the Copperbelt economy fuels hopefulness in times of growth, just as moments of free fall on a roller-coaster help propel the riders up the next incline. As Owen Sichone puts it in his critique of Ferguson, "Optimism surely is based on the knowledge that others have been through decline before and survived" (2001: 379).

This sustained (and sustaining) hope for the future, the forward pitch of moving, is the subject of this book. While there has been no shortage of crisis on the Copperbelt in the thirteen years I have worked there, neither has there been a shortage of optimism. My aim in the discussion that follows is to tease out the mechanisms behind this hopefulness in a context particularly well suited to this topic of study. This brings us to a more detailed description of Nsofu.


Nsofu is a rambling collection of houses situated on the outskirts of Kitwe, the largest city on the Copperbelt and the region's commercial hub. From Nsofu one can just glimpse the smokestacks and cooling towers of the Nkana mine, which are more visible at night when illuminated by a blaze of floodlights. Turning your back to the mine and walking just over a mile to the other end of the township, you come to the far edge of Nsofu. To the left there is a massive power line that connects the township with the city's electric grid. Straight ahead the land quickly falls away to a broad expanse of forested savannah dotted with trees and boulders. Further on, the Kafue River winds its way south, where it will eventually plunge over the Kafue Gorge dam before joining the Zambezi. A serpentine strip of tarmac runs down the middle of Nsofu, but the remaining roads are unpaved, or were paved so long ago that they are now a jumble of stones and crumbled asphalt, rutted by wear and rain. Cutting across these roads are dozens of hard-packed footpaths, which take advantage of vacant lots and gaps between fences to create a network of shortcuts. The fastest way to get most places in Nsofu is therefore on foot, and during my fieldwork I walked several miles a day as I called on different people in the neighborhood or went to Pentecostal meetings.

Nsofu is a pleasant place. In the evenings the roads fill up with people coming home from work, some wearing the polyester blouses required for employees at the Shoprite supermarket, others in suits and ties or sensible pumps. Many have plastic bags on their arms, bearing bread for the next day's breakfast or perhaps vegetables to eat with dinner. Children play soccer and tag in the dusty streets, their school uniforms dripping on clotheslines strung alongside their houses. Women who have been to visit neighbors make their way slowly home, meandering along in the company of their hosts, who will be sure to see them a good part of the way home (ukubashindika). Along the tarmac, a few charcoal braziers glow in the gathering darkness, loaded with roasted maize or cassava for sale. It should be obvious from these observations that I liked Nsofu very much. I enjoyed the call of neighbors and children in the evening, the cool air rolling up from the river, and the greetings of those I passed during my morning runs along the township roads.

Some of the houses in Nsofu were formerly company housing for the mine, or homes built for government workers that have since been privatized. Others were or are being built as part of a "site and service" scheme sponsored by the Kitwe City Council, which offered plots of land with electricity and water hookups to those willing to develop them. While some of these houses have long since been completed and are ringed with fruit trees and bougainvillea, many others are not yet finished. One of the implications of this ongoing process of construction is that the township is dotted with small "cabins" built on larger plots that, if all goes well, will one day boast big houses (Nielsen 2011). Piles of cement and stacks of bricks are heaped next to front doors, and foundation slabs or trenches for footings stretch out in front of the tiny cabins, marking out the boundaries of homes that will be built someday (figure 1). Other houses are further along in the process of construction, with walls and a roof, but without windows or a connection to basic services.

The variety of housing situations in Nsofu reflects the socioeconomic diversity of the township. Some residents own their homes, but most are tenants. Rent in Nsofu is quite expensive compared with other parts of Kitwe, or indeed, with other cities on the Copperbelt. As I have already noted, many Nsofu residents are in full-time professional employment. Another significant percentage earn a living through what is locally glossed as "business": trade, often informal, in everything from agricultural products brought in from rural parts of Zambia to clothes and housewares purchased in urban centers from Lusaka to Dubai. Alongside these middle-class residents of Nsofu live others whose situations are much less secure. Included here are pensioners, some widows, and those who are unemployed or underemployed. These are the people who live in the small Nsofu cabins or stay in unfinished houses, where they pay little or no rent, but instead provide security for the owner by keeping an eye on bags of cement or loose window frames.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Bemba Orthography and Pseudonyms
Prologue: A Breakthrough for Mr. Zulu

Introduction: Pentecostalism as Promise, Pentecostalism as Problem

1. Boom and Bust, Revival and Renewal
2. Making Moving Happen
3. Becoming Pentecostal on the Copperbelt
4. Ritual and the (Un)making of the Pentecostal Relational World
5. Prosperity, Charisma, and the Problem of Gender
6. On the Potential and Problems of Pentecostal Exchange
7. Mending Mother’s Kitchen
8. The Circulation of Copperbelt Saints

Conclusion: Worlds That Flourish

References Cited

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