The mine was originally named the King Leopold Mine when the border between Democratic Republic of Congo - then Belgian Congo - and Zambia was established in 1894 along the watershed between the Zaire and Zambezi rivers, which effectively cut the copper-belt into two parts. Union Miniere of Belgium started production at the King Leopold mine in 1925, and ran the mine on an uninterrupted basis for 42 years. In 1967, with the formation of the state owned mining company Gécamines, Kipushi was nationalized. Production continued under Gécamines until 1993, when, due to a lack of foreign exchange to purchase supplies and spares, the mine was put on a care and maintenance program.

According to a 1996 report on Kipushi produced for AMFI by Watts Griffis and McOuat Limited, the operation has mined and processed 60 million tonnes of ore at grades of over 6% copper and 11% zinc from areas between surface and a depth of 1,200 metres. Annual production reached 1.5 million tonnes in the mid-1980s and then went into decline because of the lack of spare parts and operating supplies.

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