Epilogue and Conclusion
In a major review of Palmer and Parsons' Roots of Rural Poverty, Terence Ranger observed:
I do not believe that the might of colonial capitalism was so overwhelming that African cultivators could not at all affect what was happening to them . . . or that they necessarily bore the pathos of structurally determined losers . . . . Indeed, in some circumstances there were peasant victories to be won even in colonial Africa. 1
Does the experience of the Plateau Tonga present evidence of such a victory? In the context of southern Africa, I believe the answer is yes. The victory was certainly a limited one, because in this case a peasant victory did not amount to a settler defeat, as the last chapter clearly shows. Still, though limited, the victory was hardly Pyrrhic. Compared to the fate of many other southern African people, locked by the 1930s into family-splitting patterns of labor migration, the fate of the Tonga was surely to be preferred.
Before offering some general explanations and looking briefly at the Plateau's history since 1939, I will review the essential steps in the story. The Plateau in the nineteenth century was home to a number of small egalitarian communities, with a domestic mode of production centered on cereal cultivation and livestock. The period was one of general insecurity, however, due to attacks from powerful kingdoms, particularly the Lozi and Ndebele. Human and cattle populations were low; in the latter case, rinderpest in the mid-1890s further devastated herds.
The Lozi and Ndebele were superceded by the British Empire, represented in this case by the Rhodesian operation of Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company. Between 1898 and 1904 the Plateau was occupied and incorporated into the territory of North-Western Rhodesia, part of what later became Northern Rhodesia.
The Northern Rhodesian railway line--sponsored by the BSAC and built between 1904 and 1909--traversed the heart of the Plateau, and made white settlement at least conceivable. The remoteness of the ter