Northern Rhodesia

Northern Rhodesia
Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia
Protectorate of the United Kingdom


1924 – 1953
1963 – 1964


Flag Coat of arms
God Save the Queen
Capital Lusaka (from 1935), Livingstone (until 1935)
Language(s) English
Government Constitutional monarchy
 - 1923-1936 George V
 - 1936-1952 George VI
 - 1952-1964 Elizabeth II
 - 1924-1927 Sir Herbert Stanley
 - 1959-1964 Sir Evelyn Hone
Prime Minister
 - 1964 Kenneth Kaunda
Historical era Interwar period
 - Formed 1911
 - British protectorate April 1, 1924
 - Federation 1953-1963
 - Independence October 24, 1964
Currency Pound

Northern Rhodesia was a territory in south central Africa, formed in 1911. It became independent in 1964 as Zambia.

It was initially administered under charter by the British South Africa Company and formed by it in 1911 by amalgamating North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia. Although it had features of a charter colony the territory's treaties and charter gave it protectorate status. From 1924 it was administered by the British government as an official British protectorate.

The geographical, as opposed to political, term "Rhodesia" referred to a region generally comprising the areas that are today Zambia and Zimbabwe.[1] From 1964 it only referred to the former Southern Rhodesia.



British South Africa Company

The name "Rhodesia" was derived from Cecil John Rhodes, the British empire-builder who was a guiding figure in British expansion north of the Limpopo River into south-central Africa. Rhodes pushed British influence into the region by obtaining mineral rights from local chiefs under questionable circumstances. After making a vast fortune in mining in South Africa, it was his ambition to extend the British Empire north, all the way to Cairo if possible. He sent European settlers into the territory that became Southern Rhodesia, and encouraged and financed British expeditions to bring areas north of the Zambezi into the British sphere of influence.

Rhodes suffered one of his few setbacks when, hearing of Belgian King Leopold II's designs on Katanga, he hastily sent the big game hunter Alfred Sharpe to obtain a treaty from its ruler, Msiri, producing the anomaly of the Congo Pedicle.

British missionaries had already established themselves in Nyasaland, and the British government's Colonial Office sent Harry Johnston to administer that territory as the British Central Africa Protectorate. Rhodes sent emissaries Joseph Thomson, Frank Elliott Lochner and Alfred Sharpe (again) to make treaties with chiefs in the area west of Nyasaland. After King Lewanika of the Barotse signed a treaty in 1890, the next year the British government placed Barotseland and land up to Nyasaland in the east and to Katanga and Lake Tanganyika in the north under the Charter of Rhodes' British South Africa Company (BSAC), administrated as two different units, North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia. The Colonial Office acted as a distant supervisor, with Harry Johnston in Nyasaland as their local representative. Rhodes financed much of the British presence in Nyasaland and worked closely with Johnston and his successors (Alfred Sharpe became one) so he could use them as emissaries and their Nyasaland troops as enforcers, particularly in North-Eastern Rhodesia. This territory and North-Western Rhodesia were considered by Rhodes and his colonisers to be a "tropical dependency" rather than a northward extension of white-settler-controlled southern Africa. In 1895, Rhodes asked his American scout Frederick Russell Burnham to look for minerals and ways to improve river navigation in the region, and it was during this trek that Burnham discovered major copper deposits along the Kafue River.[2] In 1911 the BSAC merged the two territories as 'Northern Rhodesia'.[3]

The BSAC had extended the Rhodesian Railways from Bulawayo through Livingstone to the Belgian Congo between 1904 and 1909 to serve the mines at Broken Hill and in Katanga. However, at that time the Company was not fully aware of the mineral riches of the Copperbelt and considered the principal economic benefit of Northern Rhodesia to be as a reservoir for migrant labour which could be called upon for Southern Rhodesia. In addition there was some cattle farming in Barotseland. Therefore Northern Rhodesia attracted little white settlement, in contrast to its southern neighbour.

British common law became the basis of the administration of Southern and Northern Rhodesia, unlike Roman Dutch law which applied in South Africa. In 1916, the British South Africa Company attempted to unify the administration of the two Rhodesian territories, but this foundered because of opposition from the Southern Rhodesian colonialists who were concerned about taking responsibility for a large undeveloped area and also about the Northern Rhodesian practice of employing Africans in administrative posts in lack of European settlers. The prospect of a split in opinion between the Company and the settlers led to the establishment of an Advisory Council through which settler opinion could be communicated.

Protectorate status

Following a judgement by the Privy Council that the land in Southern Rhodesia belonged to the British Crown, opinion among settlers in Southern Rhodesia turned to favour responsible government and in 1923 this request was granted. This left Northern Rhodesia in a difficult position since the British South Africa Company had believed it owned the land in both territories and some settlers suggested that the ownership in Northern Rhodesia be similarly referred. However, the British South Africa Company insisted that its claims were unchallengeable and persuaded the United Kingdom government to enter into direct negotiations over the future administration of Northern Rhodesia.

As a result, a settlement was achieved by which Northern Rhodesia became a protectorate under the British government, with its administrative machinery taken over by the Colonial Office, while the British South Africa Company retained extensive areas of freehold property and the protectorate's mineral rights. It was also agreed that half of the proceeds of land sales in the former North-Western Rhodesia would go to the Company. On 1 April 1924, Herbert Stanley was appointed as Governor and Northern Rhodesia became an official Protectorate of the United Kingdom, with capital in Livingstone. The capital was moved to Lusaka in 1935.

At the same time, a Legislative Council was established, of which five members were elected by the small European minority consisting of only 4,000 people, but none by the African population.

Mining developments

The most important factor in the colony's economy was copper. Copper was known to the native peoples, but its discovery in 1895 by the British South Africa Company is owed to its celebrated American scout, Frederick Russell Burnham, who lead and oversaw the massive Northern Territories (BSA) Exploration Co. expedition which first established for Westerners that major copper deposits existed in Central Africa.[4] Along the Kafue River in then Northern Rhodesia, Burnham saw many similarities to copper deposits he had worked in the United States, and he encountered natives wearing copper bracelets.[5] Later, the British South Africa Company built towns along the river and a railroad to transport the copper through Mozambique.[6]

But prior to 1924, the British South Africa Company had not sought to fully exploit Northern Rhodesia's mineral resources. With the Company giving up administration, it changed its mining policy. Whereas Southern Rhodesia had seen a flood of fortune-seeking prospectors seeking to set up independent mines, Northern Rhodesia was largely untouched, and this allowed the Company to agree large scale deals with major commercial mining companies.

One company, Rhodesia Concessions Ltd., was formed by Sir Edmund Davis and Alfred Chester Beatty. Beatty was largely responsible for discovering the copper resources located towards the northern border with the Belgian Congo. Copper was becoming much more valuable as more copper was needed for electrical components and the motor industry. It only became apparent in 1925 how extensive the copper deposits were; unlike the copper located in the Congo, it was not difficult to extract profitably and investors were keen to provide the capital to set up copper mines. Two partly interconnected companies came to control what was becoming known as the Copperbelt: the Rhodesian Anglo American Corporation, closely linked to the Witwatersrand gold industry and financed from Britain and South Africa, and the Roan Selection Trust, financed from the United States of America. A construction boom began.

The production of copper at the time was in the hands of an American cartel which sought to restrict supply in order to increase prices. While at first this encouraged investment, consumers sought alternative and cheaper materials and with the economic downturn, the price of copper crashed in 1931. An international agreement restricted output. This caused a catastrophe in Northern Rhodesia where many employees were sacked, and put an end to hopes which many Europeans had held of turning Northern Rhodesia into another white dominion like Southern Rhodesia. Many settlers took this opportunity to move back to Southern Rhodesia, while Africans returned to their farms.

Economic recovery

Despite the economic crash large firms were still able to maintain a profit. The fact that unemployed workers had left meant there were no increases in taxation, and labour costs remained low. At a 1932 conference of copper producers in New York the Rhodesian companies objected to further market intervention, and when no agreement could be made, the previous restrictions on competition lapsed. This placed the Northern Rhodesians in a very powerful position.

Meanwhile the British South Africa Company sold its remaining Southern Rhodesian holdings to the Southern Rhodesian government in 1933 giving it the capital to invest in developing other mines. It negotiated an agreement between Rhodesian Railways and the copper mine companies for exclusive use, and used resources freed up to buy a major stake in the Anglo American Corporation. By the end of the 1930s, Northern Rhodesian copper mining was booming.

Settler - native relations

Lord Passfield

In contrast to Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia followed a policy of 'Indirect Rule' of African areas, where the administration attempted to build up self-governing institutions within the African community and to leave them to their own devices. In 1930, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Lord Passfield issued a memorandum which said that the interests of natives should be paramount in Northern Rhodesia and should, if they came into conflict, take precedence over those of the settlers. This aroused considerable opposition to the United Kingdom government among the settlers.

Africans working in the copper mines were outraged when, in 1935, the rates of the poll tax charged in the Copperbelt were increased retrospectively because of a large number of defaulters. Although the Provincial Commissioners had been told about the change on January 11, it was not until May 20 that the Native Tax Amendment Ordinance was signed, with rates implemented as of the previous January 1. This decision provoked an all-out Copperbelt strike which broke out from May 22 to May 25 in three of the four mines in the area, namely Mufulira, Nkana and Roan Antelope. Troops were sent to Nkana to suppress it. When, on May 29, police in Luanshya attempted to disperse a group of Africans, violence erupted and six Africans were shot dead. The loss of life shocked both sides and the strike was suspended while a Commission of Inquiry was set up. It concluded that the way the increases were announced was the key factor, and that if they had been introduced calmly, they would have been accepted.

One effect of the strike was the establishment of tribal elders' advisory councils for Africans across the Copperbelt, following a system introduced at the Roan Antelope mine. These councils acted as minor courts, referring other matters to the mine compound manager or district organiser. Native courts operated outside the urban areas and eventually these were introduced to the towns. Mufulira was the first, in 1938, and by the end of 1940 they existed in Kitwe, Luanshya, Ndola and Chingola on the Copperbelt, Lusaka and Broken Hill in the centre of the country, and Livingstone on the border with Southern Rhodesia. Simultaneously, African Urban Advisory Councils were established in the main Copperbelt towns. Relations between Africans and Europeans were often strained.[7]

Constitutional developments and World War

Shortly after the Copperbelt strike there was an election to the Legislative Council, in which all candidates supported investigating amalgamation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia. After a conference at Victoria Falls between the elected members and representatives of the Southern Rhodesian political parties in January 1936 resolved in favour of amalgamation "under a constitution conferring the right of complete self-government". The government of the United Kingdom, after initial refusal, organised a Royal Commission on the issue under Viscount Bledisloe.

The Royal Commission reported in March 1939, and though it accepted amalgamation in principle, it rejected it for immediate implementation. The Northern Rhodesian white population regarded the report as a severe disappointment, but before they had the opportunity to make a serious response, the outbreak of World War II fundamentally changed the economic and political situation. Northern Rhodesian copper became a vital resource in winning the war.

During World War II, Northern Rhodesian military units participated on the side of the United Kingdom. Specifically, Northern Rhodesian forces were involved in the East African Campaign.

When the European copper miners realised their importance, they went on a wildcat strike demanding that basic pay be raised by 2s. per shift with a war bonus. Realising that they might be sacked and replaced with African workers who were paid less, they also demanded a closed shop. The strikers' demands were largely conceded with an agreement to consult the miners' union on any "dilution of labour", and to revert to pre-war conditions after the war.

The African miners got to hear of the settlement unofficially and rumours that wage increases of £4 per day circulated; despite increasing African bonus payments, the Africans in Nkana mine went on strike. When many turned up to collect their pay for work before going on strike, the diehard strikers assumed they were reporting for work and a confrontation began which quickly escalated into a riot in which troops opened fire. Thirteen were killed. Another Commission of Inquiry found that conditions at Nkana and Mufulira had little changed from 1935, although at Nchanga and Roan Antelope no strike had happened.[8]

There was an election in 1941. Roy Welensky, a railway trade union leader who had been elected in 1938, set up the Northern Rhodesian Labour Party as a party favouring amalgamation. All its five candidates were elected. This development was spotted in London where Labour Party MPs were concerned that the demand, if granted, would diminish the position of the Africans of Northern Rhodesia.

Later in the war, the British government's Ministry of Supply entered into agreements with the Northern Rhodesian and Canadian copper mines to supply all the copper needed by the armed forces for set prices. This removed free competition and therefore kept prices down; as British companies, the main copper producers were also subject to the Excess Profits Tax. However they did have a guaranteed market, and in 1943 the Ministry of Supply paid half of the cost of an expansion programme planned for the Nchanga mine.


The end of the war gave the opportunity for increased participation by Africans in the affairs of the colony. In 1946, the Federation of African Welfare Societies was formed. Welfare societies had been set up by educated Africans in towns in the 1930s who discussed local affairs in English. In 1948 the Federation changed its name to the Northern Rhodesia Congress and Godwin Lewanika, a Barotseland native from an aristocratic background, became its leader.

The war years had seen the establishment of African Regional Councils formed from delegates of the African Urban Advisory Councils, and the regional councils together met as the African Representative Council. From 1948, the African Representative Council was allowed to elect two Africans to the Legislative Council which governed the colony. The next year, African mineworkers formed a trade union.

The Congress under Godwin Lewanika became a political force and developed a radical policy. In 1952 Lewanika was succeeded by Harry Nkumbula, a schoolteacher from Kitwe who was such a radical figure that many Chiefs withdrew their support from the Congress. These developments among the Africans caused concern among the 50,000 white Northern Rhodesians who feared being deposed. The white Northern Rhodesians also felt that the Africans, who were led by clerks and schoolteachers, lacked any skills in the complex business of governing.

However, the Africans did have some interests in common with the Europeans, including on the issue of trade union organisation. Roy Welensky also led a move in the Legislative Council to restrict the British South Africa Company's mineral rights which garnered African support; the Company agreed in 1949 to assign 20% of its revenues to the Government, and to transfer all its remaining rights in 1986.


As part of their attempts to hold off African control, the idea of federation with Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland was again suggested. The British government, now run by the Labour Party, was becoming favourable as a way of more logically running the remaining British Empire and of relieving the burden of running loss-making colonies like Nyasaland.

Accordingly in 1949 a conference was held at Victoria Falls which produced a workable federal scheme. After revisions and a further draft by civil servants in 1951, agreement was eventually reached and following a successful referendum in Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia joined the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland when it was created.

End of Federation and independence

When the Federation dissolved at the end of 1963, Northern Rhodesia reverted to its former status until achieving independence as the nation of Zambia on October 24, 1964.

History of the evolution of Northern Rhodesia

Evolution of Northern Rhodesia

Government and politics

Under British South Africa Company rule, there was no obligation for the company to set up any form of body to consult with residents. However when a serious split in opinion between the settlers and the Company opened in 1918, the Company set up an Advisory Council through which settler opinion could be represented to it. This council had no legislative or executive powers. It had five nominated members: four represented North-Western Rhodesia and one represented North-Eastern Rhodesia. The members represented the resident Europeans in their constituencies.

Legislative council

When Northern Rhodesia became a Protectorate under the British Empire on April 1, 1924, a Legislative Council was established on which the Governor of Northern Rhodesia sat ex officio as Presiding Officer. The initial council consisted entirely of nominated members, as no procedure existed at the time for holding elections. However, the members were divided between the "official members" who held executive posts in the administration of the Protectorate, and the "unofficial members" who held no posts.

Electoral system

In 1926 a system of election was worked out and the first election was held for five elected unofficial members, who took their seats together with nine nominated official members. An elector in Northern Rhodesia had to be a United Kingdom citizen, a requirement which practically ruled out Africans who were British Protected Persons. In addition, would-be electors were required to fill out an application form in English, and to have an annual income of at least £200 or occupy immovable property worth £250 (tribal or community occupation of such property was specifically excluded).[9]

In 1929 the number of unofficial members was increased to seven. 1938 saw the first acknowledgement of the need to represent the opinions of Africans, as a space for one nominated unofficial member was made. This member replaced one of the nominated officials, so that the official and unofficial members each numbered eight. In 1941 one additional member was added to both the nominated officials and the elected unofficials, for a total of ten unofficials (nine elected) and nine nominated officials.


In 1945 there was an increase in the number of unofficial members representing Africans from one to three, and an additional two nominated unofficials were introduced for a total of five. 1948 saw the replacement of the Governor by a Speaker, who also sat ex officio, and the introduction of two members nominated on the advice of the African Representative Council.

An Order-in-Council coming into effect on December 31, 1953 provided for a new Legislative Council to consist of a Speaker ex officio, eight nominated officials, twelve elected unofficials, four African unofficial members nominated by the Governor on the advice the African Representative Council, and two nominated unofficial members representing the interests of Africans. The nominated officials were identified as the Chief Secretary, Attorney General, Financial Secretary, and Secretary for Native Affairs, and four others.

1959 Order in Council

1959 saw a vast increase in the elected proportion. The Legislative Council then consisted of the Speaker and 30 members. All but eight of these members were to be elected: the eight nominated were the same four named posts as before, two others, and two nominated unofficial members (who were not specifically responsible for African interests). These two members were retained in order to provide that there were some members who could be called upon for Ministerial duties if there were too few elected members willing to do so.

The 22 elected members were organised in such a way as to ensure that there were eight African and 14 Europeans. The electoral roll was divided into 'General' and 'Special' with Special voters having much lower financial requirements than General voters, so that the majority of Special voters were Africans (the nationality requirement had been varied so that British Protected Persons were eligible to vote). In the towns in which a majority of Europeans lived, there were twelve constituencies; special voters could have no more than one third of the influence on the total.

In the rural areas where most Africans lived, six special constituencies were drawn. Both general and special voters participated in the elections and their votes counted for equal weight, although the majority of voters were Africans. In the special constituency areas, there were two composite 'Reserved European seats', in which special voters were restricted to one third of the influence. There were also two 'Reserved African seats' in the areas of the ordinary constituencies, although all votes counted in full.[10]


In 1889 the British South African Company was given the power to establish a police force and administer justice within Northern Rhodesia. In the case of African natives appearing before courts, the Company was instructed to have regard to the customs and laws of their tribe or nation. An Order in Council of 1900 created the High Court of North-Eastern Rhodesia which took control of civil and criminal justice; it was not until 1906 that North-Western Rhodesia received the same. In 1911 the two were amalgamated into the High Court of Northern Rhodesia.


With Protectorate status in 1924, the High Court of Northern Rhodesia was made subordinate to and in conformity with the laws of England and Wales. All United Kingdom statutes in force on August 17, 1911 were given application to Northern Rhodesia, together with those of later years if specifically applied to the Protectorate. Where Africans were parties before courts, Native law and customs were applied, except if they were "repugnant to natural justice or morality", or inconsistent with any other law in force.

Subsidiary Courts

Below the High Court were Magistrates' Courts which fell into four classes:

  1. Courts of Provincial Commissioners, Senior Resident Magistrates and Resident Magistrates. In criminal matters, such courts could impose sentences of imprisonment for up to three years; in civil matters, they were limited to awards of £200 and for recovery of land worth up to £144 annual rent.
  2. Courts of District Commissioners. In criminal matters, they could impose sentences of imprisonment for up to one year without confirmation by the High Court; they could also impose up to three years' imprisonment with the High Court's consent. Their civil jurisdiction was limited to £100.
  3. Courts of District Officers.
  4. Courts of Cadets attached to the Provincial Administration.

Criminal trials for treason, murder and manslaughter, or attempts and conspiracies to commit them, were reserved for the High Court. Civil matters relating to constitutional issues, wills and marriages were also restricted to the High Court.

Native Courts

The Native Courts Ordinance 1937 allowed the Governor to issue a warrant recognising native courts. Their jurisdiction only covered natives, but extended to criminal and civil jurisdiction. Native courts were not allowed to impose the death penalty, nor try witchcraft without permission. There was also provision for a Native Court of Appeal, but if not established, appeal was to the Provincial Commissioner and thence to the High Court.


Year Population
Natives Europeans Coloured Asiatic
1911 826,000 1,497
1923 1,000,000 3,750
1925 1,140,642 4,624
1931 1,372,235 13,846
1932 1,382,705 10,553
1933 1,371,213 11,278
1935 1,366,425 10,000
1940 1,366,641 15,188
1943 - 18,745
1945 1,631,146 21,371
1946 1,634,980 21,919
1951 1,700,577 37,221 1,092 2,529
1954 2,040,000 60,000 1,400 4,600
1956 2,110,000 64,800 1,550 5,400
1960 2,340,000 76,000 2,000 8,000
1961 2,430,000 75,000 1,900 7,900
1963 3,460,000 74,000 2,300 8,900

Source: Whitaker's Almanack


The principal activity in Rhodesia was copper mining centred on the Copperbelt and at Broken Hill (Kabwe).

Administrative subdivisions


Postage stamps

The British government issued postage stamps for Northern Rhodesia from 1925 to 1963. See Postage stamps and postal history of Northern Rhodesia for more details.

1964 Olympics

National Team Badge

Zambia became the first country ever to change its name and flag between the opening and closing ceremonies of an Olympic Games. The country entered the 1964 Summer Olympics as Northern Rhodesia, and left in the closing ceremony as Zambia on the 24th October, the day independence was formally declared.

See also


  1. ^ "Merriam-Webster online dictionary". 
  2. ^ Burnham, Frederick Russell (1899). "Northern Rhodesia". In Wills, Walter H.. Bulawayo Up-to-date; Being a General Sketch of Rhodesia. Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co.. pp. 177–180. 
  3. ^ Gann, L.H. (1960). "History of Rhodesia and Nyasaland 1889-1953". Handbook to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Federal Information Department. pp. 62, 74. 
  4. ^ Baxter, T.W.; E.E. Burke (1970). Guide to the Historical Manuscripts in the National Archives of Rhodesia. p. 67. 
  5. ^ Burnham, Frederick Russell (1926). Scouting on Two Continents. Doubleday, Page & company. pp. 2; Chapters 3 & 4. OCLC 407686. 
  6. ^ Juang, Richard M. (2008). Africa and the Americas: culture, politics, and history : a multidisciplinary encyclopedia, Volume 2 Transatlantic relations series. ABC-CLIO. p. 1157. ISBN 1851094415. 
  7. ^ Jenkins, E.E. (1937). Report of an Inquiry into the Causes of a Disturbance at Nkana on the 4th and 5 November 1937. Lusaka: Government Printer. 
  8. ^ Report of the Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Disturbances in the Copperbelt, Northern Rhodesia, July 1940. Lusaka: Government Printer. 
  9. ^ Davison, J.W. (1948). TheNorthern Rhodesian Legislative Council. London. pp. 23–24. 
  10. ^ Clegg, Edward (1960). Race and Politics:Partnership in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 269–270. 

External links

Coordinates: 14°07′S 27°38′E / 14.117°S 27.633°E / -14.117; 27.633

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