Black and White in Southern Zambia: The Tonga Plateau Economy and British Imperialism, 1890-1939

By Kenneth P. Vickery | Go to book overview
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that most Tonga peasant households continue to produce the bulk of their subsistence (at least in decent seasons), and this provides a measure of independence from the wider economy. Yet even producing this subsistence is a far more costly process than it was in the 1930s, and will remain so even if inflation is brought under control. Certain kinds of agricultural inputs--fertilizer is the most obvious example--are now virtual necessities, even for those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. Thus the income from participation in markets is vital even without consideration of purchased consumer goods. The exact length of the "arm's length" relationship between peasants and the wider economy has shortened considerably. There is no question that they are exploited in their participation by urban areas, classes, and the state, and underserved by the latter; yet their dependence on these goes forward. The larger the scale of operations, the greater the dependence. If in Hyden's scheme the state needs the peasants, but the peasants don't need the state, this cannot be said on the Plateau; Momba finds that "rich peasants have become more, not less, dependent on the state for their well-being." 36 For smaller producers, there are still dependence and vulnerability; many would fit Elliott's description of the farmer "who has the resources, motivation and, to a degree at least, the managerial skill to grow a range of 'modern' crops but who finds that his attempts to do so are continuously frustrated by poor prices, inadequate delivery systems, corrupt distribution of credit, ineffective marketing, [and] erroneous extension advice." 37 Yet to exercise the "exit option" still would mean a substantial loss in income, drastic in the case of the large peasant.

Such a situation, then, has advantages and disadvantages compared to the "uncaptured" alternative, and many advantages, certainly, compared to being locked in to migrant labor. And it can be argued that this form of "development" is good for Zambia as a whole; the contribution to the national goal of food self-sufficiency is clear, a goal that is in reach and not to be taken lightly, obviously, in Africa today. To judge from the histories of other captured peasantries, the experience of Tonga individuals and families is likely to vary greatly. For some the future will be rewarding, or at least enriching. For others transitions will be painful. History suggests, however, that it would be a mistake to underestimate the capacity of Plateau Tonga communities to shape their own future.

T. O. Ranger, "Growing from the Roots: Reflections on Peasant Research in Central and Southern Africa," Journal of Southern African Studies 5, 1 ( 1978): 128.
See J. S. Hogendorn, "Economic Initiative and African Cash Farming: Pre-Colonial Origins and Early Colonial Developments," in L. H. Gann and P. Duignan, Colonialism in Africa 1870-1960, vol. 4: The Economics of Colonialism ( Cambridge, Eng., 1975), pp. 283-328.
M. Miracle, "Plateau Tonga Entrepeneurs in Historical Inter- regional Trade," Rhodes-Livingstone Journal 26 ( 1959): 34-50.
J. Iliffe, The Emergence of African Capitalism ( Minneapolis,


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Black and White in Southern Zambia: The Tonga Plateau Economy and British Imperialism, 1890-1939


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