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In 1939 the Bledisloe Commission recommended economic integration, rather than political confederation.

Northern Rhodesia proved to be an unexpectedly rich country owing to the discovery of minerals. Lead and zinc were found in 1902 at Broken Hill (now Kabwe), and the first hint of vast wealth was revealed in 1909 on the border between Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. This region, later known as the Copper Belt, turns out to contain the world’s largest reserves of copper outside the American continent. In 1924 the British South Africa Company hands over the administration of Northern Rhodesia to the British government, but the company is allowed to retain the mineral rights in the colony.

In 1906 Union Minière du Haut Katanga was formed to exploit the Katanga mines. King Leopold wanted a railway entirely in Congolese territory, linked to the Congo River, but in 1908, he agreed with the British South Africa Company to continue the Rhodesian railway to Elizabethville (Lubumbashi) and the mines. Between 1912, when full-scale copper production began, until 1928 when a Congolese line was completed, almost all of Katanga’s copper was shipped over the Rhodesian network. The railway’s revenue from Katanga copper enabled it to carry other goods at low rates. Large-scale development of the Copperbelt only began in the late 1920s, with an increasing world market for copper. Transport was no problem as only short branches had to be built to connect the Copperbelt to the main line.

The energy requirements of the smelters are immense. These requirements were satisfied in the early days by coal from Wankie, Southern Rhodesia (now Hwange, Zimbabwe), and later by hydroelectric power transmitted from the Kariba power station to the Copperbelt about  370 km away and by hydroelectric power from Inga to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s smelters 1,600 km northwest of Katanga.

The area that has become known as the Copperbelt, and which stretches across Central Africa traversing Zambia and the province of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was brought to the attention of the Western World by the celebrated American scout Frederick Burnham, who led an expedition to the area in 1895. He reported to the British South African Company: “About 200 miles north of the Falls on the Incalla river, and twelve miles from the Kafukwe (now known as the Kafue River) and still on the high plateau is probably one of the greatest copper fields on the continent. The natives have worked this ore for ages, as can be seen by their old dumps, and they work it today. The field is very extensive, and reaches away to Katanga. The natives inhabiting this part of the country are skilled workmen, and have traded their handiwork with all comers, even as far afield as the Portuguese of the West Coast and the Arabs of the East. These natives, being miners and workers of copper and iron, and being permanently located in the ground, would give the very element needed in developing these fields.”

Power supply during this period started with a small thermal station built in Livingstone in 1906 to provide power to part of the town using coal from Wankie. In spite of the Victoria Falls hydropower potential, it was not until 1938 that hydropower was first generated at a small station on the third gorge located downstream from Victoria Falls, and other regions gradually became electrified by small thermal stations.


The Energy Sector Under the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland

The Federation as a whole was much too dependent upon the export of copper for its own economic good (a case of déjà vu when one talks about Zambia now). About one-third of the federal tax revenue and over one-half of its export income came from this one metal. Needless to say, the Federation had no power to influence the foreign prices and markets upon which it so heavily relied. The American recession of 1957-1958 cut the country’s income from £114millions to £69millions as the quantity of the metal increased on the market. Russian dumping of copper added to this vulnerability. Part of the answer to this problem was, of course, diversification of the economy. This was being done as rapidly as capital and development allowed. Still it was thought that it would be a long time before the economy of Central Africa could be released from its dependence on copper. Some sixty years down the line the diversification of the economy so often talked about like a broken record has still not happened.

There was also a pressing need to encourage the flow of foreign capital into the Federation. Also there were problems of ending the adverse balance of trade with the then Union of South Africa. Each month the Federation paid £1million for fresh foodstuffs which could and should have been produced at home (one could argue that this is still happening even now). Each year millions more were lost as Federation tourists vacationed at seaside resorts in South Africa.  By the mid 1930s colonists in Rhodesia and in Nyasaland were strongly in favour of a closer union. This sentiment strengthened after the Second World War, but the Labour government resisted the federation of the three colonies claiming it was detrimental to African interests. This changed with the Conservative election victory in 1951 and negotiations for federation advanced more rapidly. The Central African Federation was formed in August 1953 under the leadership of Sir Godfrey Huggins, previously the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, who later became Lord Malvern as its first Prime Minister.  The traditional and political leaders of both territories saw the proposed merger as inevitably resulting in political domination by the Southern Rhodesia political system, which bore a very close resemblance to the South African apartheid system, conspicuous for its racial discrimination and also as a means of exploiting Northern Rhodesia’s vast copper resources. The agriculture of Southern Rhodesia was based on cheap labour from Nyasaland. Huggins and other proponents of Federation claimed to stand for a policy of Partnership, which was claimed to be much more enlightened than the apartheid that the new Nationalist Party Government was then installing in South Africa. The notorious quotation attributed to Huggins was that Partnership would be akin to “the partnership of rider and horse”. This is what Kenneth Kaunda (Dr) the President-General of the then banned Zambia African National Congress, who was rusticated to a distant district of Northern Rhodesia said about Lord Malvern in 1959: “Lord Malvern, Welensky’s co-principal architect of this Federation, has, just like his friends, never hidden his crude scorn for African opinion. As the Federation’s first Prime Minister, he described partnership as “the same as exists between rider and horse”—the settler, of course, being the rider and the African the horse.”

Huggins’ policy of partnership antagonized certain sections of the settler community who saw partnership as “a step in a dangerous direction.” Fearing African majority rule for their children, they formed the Dominion Party (the forerunner to the Rhodesian Front, a party which eventually proclaimed UDI), to strive for the implementation in central Africa of Malan’s apartheid policy.

The federation was doomed from the outset due to the political dominance of the Europeans of Southern Rhodesia in the federal government. This dominance could not be reconciled with the growing African nationalism. Many politically conscious blacks distrusted the ‘partnership’ between the territories. They feared that it was all a cover up for a take-over by Southern Rhodesian mini-imperialism. With independence sweeping down from the north, Africans wanted the same status, not permanent junior partnership in the white-dominated federation.

African nationalism began to rise in Northern Rhodesia after World War II. African welfare associations, founded before the war, developed rapidly into political organizations. In 1946, representatives from 14 welfare societies formed the Federation of Welfare Societies. In 1948, the federation was reconstituted as the Northern Rhodesia Congress. It became the North Rhodesian African National Congress (ANC) in 1951 under the leadership of Harry Nkumbula. In 1958, dissatisfaction with Nkumbula’s leadership gave rise to a breakaway movement led by the party’s secretary-general, Kenneth Kaunda. Kaunda formed the Zambia African National Congress, which was declared illegal the following year. In 1960, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) was formed under Kaunda’s leadership. UNIP received a majority of the popular votes in the 1962 elections and formed the first government after independence. The ANC became the chief opposition party.

During the 1946-53 planning period two dam sites received serious consideration. One was the Kariba Gorge in the Middle Zambezi Valley; the other was immediately upstream from the Kafue River Gorge, a Zambezi tributary entirely contained within Northern Rhodesia. Established in 1946, the Inter-Territorial Hydro-Electric Power Commission appointed an Advisory Panel in 1948 to choose between the two sites. The Panel initially favoured the Kariba Gorge dam site to which the Northern Rhodesia government (NRG) objected and asked the Panel to look more carefully at the Kafue site.

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