Category Archives: British South African company

Early British Colonialists in Zambia

I picked up Richard Hall’s Zambia at the library. The book was falling apart and worn out, but it was addicting to read. Who was Richard Hall? I found an obituary describing the man’s life, as he had passed on in 1997. As a young boy, he grew up in Australia, served in the navy, received a degree at Oxford and then moved to Zambia with his family to work as an editor for two Copperbelt magazines “one targeted at affluent white miners, and the other at a low-income but increasingly skilled black readership.”

In any case, what I found particularly fascinating about the book was the detailed references to early European settlers and colonialists in Zambia, in terms of the kinds of occupations and status they occupied in their home societies, especially in comparison to the Chinese either working and/or settling there. What might be the similarities and differences in attitudes towards Zambia and Zambians among different kinds of expatriates and colonialists? Where did they come from in their home societies and what propelled them to go to Zambia? Why Zambia? The point that underscores these kinds of comparisons is an emphasis of continuity in history in Zambia as opposed to framing China and Zambian relations as a break from the past. That is, can we conceive some of the negative depictions of Chinese engagement in Zambia and other African countries as uniquely different?

First, let us begin with 1867, when the northwest of Zambia was invaded by an Arab slave-trader, apparently a ruthless one, named Hamed bin Muhammed. He was also known as Tippoo Tib. According to Hall, Tippoo Tib was a “plunderer who showed no mercy to his African victims” yet he was kind to the whites he met. Henry Stanley took him on and King Leopold II named him the governor of Upper Congo. One of the accounts of the system of slave trade read as follows: “There they traded, and when ivory and slaves were sufficient they sent off caravans to the coast, which brought back guns and powder and other trade goods. After a time of peaceful penetration, having ingratiated themselves with the people and having built a walled village, the armed Arabs one morning would suddenly attack their erstwhile hosts and friends, killing their men and carrying off women and children….From then on, raids in the more distant villages were the order of the day, while the locals, turned into Arab servants, shared in the plunder. Thus mushroom Arab kingdoms were brought into being and built up throughout Central Africa” (46).

Surely, the Ngoni were involved in these trades, although as Hall mentions, whenever they took on captives, they did not sell them into slavery but either made them grow crops or absorbed them into their military forces. The Ngoni were “formidable warriors” and they incessantly raided some of the Bemba people. The Bemba, who did engage in slave trading, were the first to get gunpowder in exchange for slaves. This ended the raids between the Ngoni and Bemba. Then there were the Kololo who were similar to the Ngoni, also warriors. By 1840 or so, the Lozi people had created a powerful state to which tribes in the area around the flood plain had to pay tribute. The Lozi also had contact with Arab and Portuguese traders to the east. The Tonga peoples were dominated by the Lozi at one point. It was a Kololo chief who first met and was friendly to David Livingstone. Who was Livingstone? He had studied medicine in Glasgow and wanted to become a missionary in China but decided instead to travel to southern Africa. Apparently, he was so committed to the project that even when his wife had been ill and was expecting a baby who died while they were traveling in the region, he was determined as ever to take his entire family, wife and three children on the expedition. Sadly, it was Sebituane, the Kololo chief’s enthusiasm to entertain Livingstone by riding a horse with him that eventually led to his death; he was thrown off the horse and quickly fell and died.

The Kololo were eventually wiped out by malaria, but the Lozi remained resistant. In the latter part of the 1880s, we begin to see the formation of the British South African company, led by Cecil Rhodes, who was an Oxford-educated, wealth-driven man with empire-building aspirations. “At twenty-four he willed his entire estate to the the founding of a secret society which would be devoted to ‘the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa’ as part of a design to spread British power throughout the world….Already [by the time he was thirty-five], Cecil Rhodes had amassed a vast fortune by winning control of the mining interests in the Rand; he was a dominant figure in the Cape Parliament and was to become Prime Minister within two years” (54). Rhodes worked with people he already knew — Sir Hercules Robinson, High Commissioner in the Cape and senior Imperial representative in southern Africa, who also had shared in De Beers, the diamond empire; Sir Sidney Shippard, the administrator of Bechuanaland, who had known Rhodes since their time at Oxford and would later become the director of the British South African company; John Smith Moffat, brother in law of David Livingstone. Cecil Rhodes made constant connection with the “high social circles” in England, speaking to people he met, “placing bribes” to entice them to put Central Africa on the map. On the other front, he placed “his people” to gain concessions entitling the company to land. Lobengula was essentially tricked into the Rudd Concession which gave the company control over his country. Then, there was Elliot Lochner, a former member of the Bechuanaland Police. highly compensated by Rhodes, to negotiate treaties with Lewanika to give up Barotseland. Two other key players were involved. There was Francois Coillard, a French missionary, whose statement that he was a man of God and above politics was rendered empty when he helped Rhodes and the company to gain the concession of Bartoseland. He was not above politics when politics could serve his evangelical interests (63). There was also George Middleton, who was a friend of Coillard and a young Englishman, a layman, who had gone to Barotseland as an ivory trader, representing a firm in Mafeking. Later on, it seems Middleton called the Concession “an immense sale of the whole country” and found the British South African Company to be no more than a “simple mining association”. Four months after the signing of the Barotse concession, Lewanika changed his mind. It took Lobengula three months to change his mind after signing the Rudd Concession. Both felt that they had been duped into signing the treaties. “What I wanted was not money but protection: not the protection of a mining and mercantile company but the protection of Your Majesty and Your Government, nothing else,” they wrote to the queen.

Dr. James Johnston, who quickly became friends with Coillard, was a doctor and missionary who had previously evangelized in Jamaica. Yet he also helped the company. He was later very critical o Rhodes and the British South African company, emphasizing their use of “forced labour, flogging and even murder” (79). However, Thomson still believed that Britain was endowed with the God-given duty to expand its empire and it seems he was critical of Rhodes because it was in direct violation of what he felt should be an empire expansion directly from the Crown (80). If we fast forward to 1924, it seems many of the settlers assigned to be colonial administrators had served in previous posts and were trained in the military. For example, Sir James Crawford Maxwell had trained under Frederick Lugard in Sierra Leone and Nigeria before his assignment as governor in 1927. Lugard was born in India and raised in Worcester, England by a British Army Chaplain, his father, and the daughter of a reverend, his mother. He had fought as a young man against Arab slavers in Nyasaland in 1888 and became a well-known British colonial administrator in Africa before retiring in 1919 as Governor General of Nigeria. He produced the Dual Mandate which was required reading for every colonial cadet to implement indirect rule.

It’s quite interesting to conceptualize British colonial administration as a vehicle for career advancement for many of these young men perhaps born into less privileged backgrounds. In an informative article, “Modernizing Missions,” Joseph Hodge (2000) writes the following about colonial administration in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Perhaps not surprisingly, quite a few came from families with connections to the empire (in some cases having been born overseas, while in others knowing of close family relations who had spent time working in one or more territories. The great majority of those who became involved in colonial agriculture or agricultural research came from rural backgrounds, often born and raised on family farms, or reared in small villages in Wales or Yorkshire or Scotland. For them, working overseas held obvious attractions since the opportunities for farming in the UK at this time were limited and declining. Some were also motivated by the desire to help improve the lives of colonial peoples. Perhaps even more crucial than their background in shaping their attitudes and perceptions about development were their early colonial experiences. Often, it was in these formative years as colonial experts that key conceptual methodologies and development strategies were first devised….”

Although they were stationed throughout the empire, most spent their colonial years on tour in sub-Saharan Africa, with the greatest numbers being assigned to Kenya (28), Tanganyika (25), Nigeria (23), Uganda (15), Nyasaland (14), the Gold Coast (10), Northern Rhodesia (10) and Sierra Leone (7).

How might we compare the early trajectories of British and European settlers and colonial officials to current Chinese state-owned enterprise workers, petty traders and entrepreneurs and employees at private corporations? Can we compare and contrast the kinds of settlers, the nature of their work, and their attitudes towards locals? It seems all the European settlers and most definitely colonial administrators mentioned were racists and embraced a “civilizing mission” of the “dark continent.” Another key difference, noted by Hodges, is that around 1/3rd or more of former colonial administrators continued working in the same country for years even after independence.

On Colonialism

Any reasonable discussion of colonialism on the African continent must be accompanied by an analysis of the differences in political economy. If one examines West Africa, for example, its political economy of colonialism was concentrated in the hands of local producers and large foreign firms, in sharp contrast to South African economy, which was shaped by the British South African Company. In his magnificently fine-grained book The Political Economy of West African Agriculture, Keith Hart delineates multiple factors that contributed to its underdevelopment.

Factors include ecological challenges, the detrimental effects of the slave trade on the social structure and production of the region, and above all, the “growing discrepancy between labor productivity in Europe and West Africa during the period of mercantilist expansion.” It was Europe’s Industrial Revolution and especially Britain’s that changed West African palm production. It’s important to note that West Africa was put in a vulnerable position by relying on palm oil production due to World Bank stipulations. Let’s look at another example provided by Hart — rubber production. In 1926 the Firestone company of tire production bailed out the Liberian government in exchange for leasing a million acres of land for 99 years at low rent. This is an example of colonial corporate/state rule which guaranteed cheap labor and low pay. What’s fascinating about the cocoa industry in West Africa is high level of success by indigenous farmers. Early farmers relied on family labor and at times, they formed companies in order to purchase and distribute land before dividing them into individual enterprises (60). Many people who went into the cocoa business had capital to invest; this capital usually came from profits made on palm oil, rubber and slaves. Hart argues: “one major reason why the productive organization of the cocoa industry has remained so determinedly small scale and noncapitalist is that the state has skimmed off much of the wealth it has produced, through monopsonistic marketing arrangements, thereby reducing incentives to reinvest in farm maintenance and improvement.”

Compared to West Africa, the southern part of the continent was shaped in large part by the discovery of minerals. The British South African Company received a charter from the British government in 1880s which enabled it to profit tremendously from the extraction of resources such as gold and diamonds. Resource extraction had significant implication for labor. In the case of copper mining in Zambia, colonial officials imposed multiple taxes which essentially had the effect of coercing Zambians into the cash economy and the mining industry. Audrey Richards, also a remarkable scholar and anthropologist, mentions in her book Land Labour and Diet that Bemba youths went to mines in groups of five or six for a year or two and this changed the social structure of their communities by placing a group of older men in charge. The lack of young productive labor in the villages led to decline in agricultural output. Over time, those working in the mines lost interest in village life.

In southern Rhodesia, the colonial government began to institute labor boards designed to manage labor pools. Labor boards changed laws to make it possible for people to enter the labor pool and impose new levy taxes and so forth. Sara Berry, who draws from Frederick Cooper, makes the brilliant observation in “Debating the Land Question in Africa” that British colonialism was concerned with development insofar as it involved measures to stabilize the labor pool. Strikes broke out in the Zambian Copperbelt in 1935 and thereafter, demonstrating to colonial officials that African workers were similar to European workers in wanting higher wages, better conditions, family allowances, benefits and compensation, decent housing and healthcare. When faced with the prospect of extending welfare programs beyond the labor market to colonial society as a whole, colonial administrators withdrew. They appropriated and used “tradition” and “progress” whenever it suited their needs. When Africans went on strike they were told they were forgetting their traditions (Berry 16). Yet they instituted policies that privileged the modern, “progressive” African farmer by allocating private property. “In effect, Africans were being asked to act like economic men and tribesmen at the same time: to build a modern, commercial agrarian order on the foundations of tribal solidarity.”

When examining the current state of African countries, one must consider the vestiges of the past. As Berry puts it, “colonial regimes left behind a series of hastily built governing structures, and an improbable vision of Africans as selfless modernizers, drawing on a communitarian past to create new societies that would combine the benefits of European commerce and technology with the virtues of traditional self-help…they ignored the profoundly destabilizing effects of colonial rule….”

If we are to understand China and African relations, we must analyze it not as a “new” event marked by a departure from the past, but rather a piece in continuity of Africa’s long and complicated history