When Zambia was the colony of of Northern Rhodesia, Kabwe's British name was Broken Hill, due to the hill just south of town which had a natural shaft going through it. This became the location of a large lead and zinc mine, which in turn became the major employer of the town. The mine was later closed, and now has only been partially reopened. Because of the amount of lead in the surrounding soil and local water, Kabwe today has the dubious distinction of being listed as one of the 5 most polluted places on earth.
During the mid-1900's Kabwe played an important role in Zambia's history, as it was here that the movement for independence from Britain really gained momentum and finally reached critical mass. Sadly, since then the national and local government agencies have invested little in the city, and its infrastructure has deteriorated badly (in stark contrast to Lusaka's growth).
There is good luxury bus service going north from Lusaka and going south from the Copperbelt cities. One of the best companies running buses is Mazhandu - but be prepared to listen to (or try to ignore?) a loud preacher quoting from the Bible during the first half-hour or so on the rides leaving Lusaka. The "bus station", for all companies, is on the street in front of Big Bite.
In its heyday many of Kabwe's streets were paved and lighted. Today the light posts are still there but except for right in town the lights are all gone, and all but the main streets have deteriorated back into dirt roads with serious bumps and holes, so go slowly and carefully if you drive a car. Many locals use bicycles and most simply walk, and there are a lot of dirt-path "shortcuts" between the named streets, particularly going across the railway tracks between the suburb of Luangwa and the main part of town. The blue-and-white minibuses are to be found all over town and are a good value, and the driver will stop to pick you up wherever you stand, but be prepared to have to wait to get off only where he wants to stop. If you are driving, put lots of space between yourself and these guys, because they drive dangerously - all the locals will tell you this. In Zambia, as in most former British colonies, traffic on a 2-way street drives on the left side of the road.
One of the main sights right in town is now a National Landmark: the Big Tree, a very large fig tree which has a small park with benches located under its shady leaves. This is the most common location for public events and promotions. Otherwise there is generally really not much for the tourist to see in Kabwe, but it is so laid-back that it is a good way to see what life is like in a regular Zambian town, yet large enough that a tourist would not really feel out-of-place.
One of the best things to do in Kabwe is to go hiking at the actual Broken Hill, just east of the railway tracks at the far south end of town. Hike up the hills to the lakes: these were the mine shafts, and are now very deep lakes which provide solitude in a beautiful setting.
As Kabwe is not really a tourist destination, there's nothing particular to be bought here. But of course there is a typical African market, south of Independence Avenue just west of the railway tracks, and you can get great fresh food at good prices. Be sure to use your negotiating skills - it's the normal way of doing business in Zambia outside of the town stores. Expect the seller's first price to be approximately double what he/she is willing to accept, and accordingly make your first counteroffer far below the acceptance price. If you can engage the seller in a bit of friendly arguing, better still.
Several companies, notably Mazhandu, run luxury buses south to Lusaka and north to the Copperbelt. The "bus station" is on the street in front of Big Bite on the south side of Independence Avenue.
If you are driving, Independence Avenue becomes Great North Road outside of Kabwe, leading north to the Copperbelt cities and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and leading south to Lusaka, Livingstone, and Zimbabwe. It is paved its entire length inside Zambia (but in mid-2010 the area between Zimba and Livingstone was being repaved and several places have a detour onto a parallel dirt road).