Luanshya was founded in the early part of the 20th century after a prospector/explorer, William Collier, shot and killed a Roan Antelope on the banks of the Luanshya River, discovering a copper deposit in the process. The antelope fell to the ground, its head resting on a rock where an exposed seam of copper ore was visible. The mining company eventually formed to exploit Collier's find was named "Roan Antelope Copper Mines Ltd".
For most of the 20th century, copper was mined in great quantities at Luanshya but towards the end of the century, mining there became increasingly uneconomic, causing a severe recession in the town. There is still a fair amount of copper underground. Whether the town sees a revival in its fortunes will depend on how efficiently the copper is extracted and sold.
The city is the birthplace of folk singer, John Edmond, writer A. C. Grayling and former Vice President of Zambia, the late George Kunda.
The Roan Antelope Rugby Club in Luanshya formerly held the record for highest goal posts in the world, which were recognised by the Guinness Book of Records. They were 110 ft, 6 inches high.
Luanshya is the home base of a Technical and Vocational Teacher's College or TVTC from which a generation of the country's teachers have graduated. The town also has Luanshya Technical and Business College offering technical subjects to tertiary students. The Vasco da Gama school is the only school in the Copperbelt Province for people with disabilities, is managed by nuns and named after the famous Portuguese explorer.
Before Independence, schools were racially segregated, with separate schooling for Europeans, Asians, "Cape Coloureds" and Africans. There were two schools for white pupils: Luanshya Primary School and Luanshya High School.
During Zambia's painful privatisation period, thousands of miners were laid off by the Indian run RAMCOZ. During the Presidency of Levy Mwanawasa, the town was revived when Luanshya Copper Mines resumed full scale mining production and hired thousands of people, although that was to be short lived when the mining operator ran into financial problems.
The mines were quickly taken over by a Chinese firm. The Chinese workforce has been accused of gross negligence and flouting Labour laws.
In 2011 three Chinese workers were arrested for allegedly molesting local girls by taking advantage of their deprived economic status. Early in 2012, then Minister for Labour and Sport and area Member of Parliament Chishimba Kambwili made a surprise stop over at the multimillion-dollar Mulyashi Mine Project only to be turned away by its Chinese employers.
While the opening of the mines may have brought some social problems to Luanshya, employment rates have risen and revived the town. The population has been steadily increasing and more economic activities are visible such as the installation of a new Soya Solvent extraction plant, as well as the extension of a well known milling company. The agricultural sector is growing as small scale farmers are increasing their crop outputs to cope with growing demand. Main crops that are harvested include maize, wheat, and soybeans.
The town has three hospitals:Roan General Hospital – acute care facility with emergency facilities
Thomson Hospital – government district hospital
Luanshya currently has two constituencies, Luanshya Central covers much of the urban area whilst Roan Constituency encompasses most of the peri-urban areas.
For a long time, the town was a bastion for the fallen ruling party the Movement for Multy-Party democracy (MMD). However, during the wind of change that swept across the country in the last General Elections,the Patriotic Front notched up two important victories with popular businessman Steve Chungu riding on the party name elected as Lunshya Central M.P whilst outspoken Minister of Sport Chishimba Kambwili re-elected for the Roan seat.
There have been however calls for a youth representation from the district, 21-year-old Law student and native of Luanshya, Kasabo Kalussa claims most youth's feel left out. Kalussa, the controversial rising politician and political blogger cites the astronomical unemployment levels as the reason why the local youths feel disenfranchised.
In the 1960s, Luanshya was known as the "Garden Town of the Copperbelt". This was largely due to the efforts of the late Bill and Doreen Altern, who initiated impressive public parks and gardens. Nowadays, the garden town has few social amenities for youths and mostly with dilapidated and neglected infrastructure.
Kalussa laments that this has had a knock on effect on many youths who find themselves between the shocking levels of unemployment and poverty. Recently, Luanshya recorded a high rate of alcohol and substance abuse resulting in the newly sworn in government to close down numerous unlicensed pubs across the country.
Locally the town is headed by the Town Clerk and his executive council consisting of five directors:Administration
There is a 30-member council consisting of 28 elected members and 2 members from the national Parliament.
Luanshya Airport (ICAO: FLLA) is a small airstrip located in the eastern part of the town called Ndeke to mean "Air plane". The airstrip is not currently operational and consists of a rough unmarked 4,199 foot landing strip. A flying club is located at the airstrip
The town is accessible by two airports:Ndola Airport. in Ndola
Southdowns Airport in Kitwe
Luanshya is at the end of a spur road that comes off the main Ndola to Kitwe route. There are a few roads that connect Luanshya to other parts of Zambia. Being effectively in a cul-de-sac, there is virtually no passing traffic nor any associated trade.
Zambia Railways service to Luanshya is freight only, namely to service nearby copper mine with traffic to and from Ndola. For more see Railway stations in Zambia. The closest passenger rail service is in Ndola.
Many of the urban roads in Luanshya are named after trees and as such the initial letter of the Tree alphabetically are given the commonly used name of that road. Ie Datura Ave became D avenue. Eucalyptus Ave became E ave etc....Many of the roads are listed in alphabetical order so that A, B, C, D, E, F avenues are in alphabetical order and ran parallel with each other. The other groups of the alphabet are also grouped together in parallel lines H, G, J and l in a place called New Town although K, O, P, W avenue is right on the other side of town and ran parallel to N avenue.