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Gabriel Spence

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[edit] Article from Nchanga Weekly newspaper 29th July 1966

[edit] Their love was an explosive affair

The Chingola bachelor today has a host of pretty girls from which to choose a bride. But for his counterpart 28 years ago it was a different story – there were only three eligible girls in the entire camp. So the young sampler who has his eye on a pretty typist Ethne Sutton had to make his courtship a positive affair. “I used to send her romantic notes hidden in the book in which we wrote our measurements of the blasting done the previous day,” recalls old-timer Gaby Spence, (59), now Assistant Underground Manager, Shafts. And the system worked well until the day the book was intercepted by an American mining consultant who made unmerciful capital of his romantic find.

But Gaby got his girl and the couple were married in the Nchanga Court House – a thatched hut with a tattered calico ceiling – on December 9, 1939.

[edit] Stock Exchange

Gabriel Chandler Spence came to Nchanga in March, 1939, as the mine's first sampler. Before that he had worked in the sampling office at West Springs and his first job was a far cry from the mining world – he was a script clerk with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange for five years. Ethne has come to Nchanga to spend six weeks with her mother and step-father, Herby Wilson (who first came to the Copper-belt in the 'Twenties and who is now a contractor in Kitwe).

[edit] Tremendous Fun

“Life was tremendous fun for we three single girls,” she recalls. “And strangely enough the other two, Mrs Molly Miller and Mrs Anne Olivier are still at Nchanga too.”

In those days life was a family affair and the young moved in a gay group – the girls were even included in the men's hockey team, because of the shortage of good male players.

“We made our own entertainment and didn't expect to be entertained,” says Gaby. When he and Ethne were courting for instance they used to go up to the Hippo Pool on Sundays and hire a dug-out with three paddlers. Then “Sanders of the River” - style, they would be paddled up the Kafue in search of picnic spots. The hollowed-out treetrunks made excellent boats, providing one didn't stand up. The paddlers fished for them during the week and hired them out for only a few shillings at weekends, providing a popular outing for Nchanga's young people.

On October 1, 1940 the Spence's twins, a boy and a girl were born and Gaby acquired the nickname – Simpundu, or “Breeder of Twins.”

"There was great excitement in the camp at the arrival and during the birth there was a total eclipse,” he recalls.

[edit] Trips to Congo

In those days, the hospital consisted of a makeshift building in Second Street (now single quarters) which was staffed by a doctor, matron, two full-time nurses and a handful of part-time nurses. Trips to the Congo were a regular jaunt for Chingola people in the early days and they took advantage of rock-bottom prices there.

Ethne Spence remembers one mixed hockey team returning from a match in the Congo twice their normal size, for players had draped themselves in material, wool, clothing and a variety of purchases under their togs to evade the eagle eyes of the customs officer.

[edit] Christmas

Christmas at Chingola was a group celebration that included the whole camp. December 25 was heralded at dawn by young African singers who went from door to door chanting their tribal songs in a highly original and entertaining variation of the pavement warblings of traditional English carollers.

He has a shack some 50 miles North on the Kafue and until 10 years ago it was nothing for him and his chums to bring home 150 fish, after a weekend on the river.

“Today, fisherman boast if they bring home two or three from the same stretch of the Kafue,” he adds. Gaby was a keen sportsman and played soccer for Nchnaga for many years.

[edit] A Golfer

He was also a golfer and in the early days he used to stand in the garden of his Sixth Street home and practise his eight-iron shots into the bush. There is not a mining job in Nchanga that Gaby has not been in charge of at some stage. As shaft mine captain he turned the first spadeful for the D Shaft sink in the later Forties.

And in the torrential rains of 1952 he found himself heading an unusual work team – the men who were sent post haste to the Hippo Pool to prevent the bridge being washed away.

They blasted and hacked at the bank for a week to make room for the flood waters and managed to save the bridge (a frail affair, unlike its hefty, present-day counterpart).

[edit] Nostalgic

The Spences, whose four children were born and raised here are, are intensely nostalgic about the simplicity and fellowship of life here in the early days. They say, wryly, that from 1945 onwards, as the Copperbelt boomed and life became civilised, “things got steadily worse.” Nonetheless, they could not conceive of a life anywhere else and prefer not to think of the future and their eventual departure from their home of 28 tremendously happy years.

Written by Margaret Currey


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