Limited, the financial child of the British/South African investor, Robert Williams, who had links with Rhodes and Chartered. Williams and his affiliates sponsored the further construction of the railway into Katanga, and the line crossed the border at the close of 1909. Production in the Congo increased steadily thereafter, rising from 998 tons in 1911 to 85,570 tons in 1924. 52 The carriage of coal and coke from Wankie up to the Congo mines, and of copper from the mines to the export outlets, provided an important part of the railway revenue in Northern Rhodesia.
The development of the Katanga copperfields meant the creation of a new market for foodstuffs. Although this market was not very large, the "railway strip" of Northern Rhodesia--including the Plateau--was in an advantageous position to supply it. From about 1910, the Congo market was the mainstay of the commercial agricultural economy of the area. It remained so until the mid-1920s, when competition from Southern Rhodesian growers, increasing food production within Katanga itself, and diversion of Northern food production to the Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt spelled an end to the Congo-North-Western Rhodesian trade. Without this market, the Plateau could never have sustained even the moderate level of white farming settlement that did take place before 1925. The sales of maize and beef shipped northward were crucial to the European farmers, and they knew it. "The Belgian government has been the saviour of this country," concluded Tom King, a prominent Mazabuka settler, in 1913; "but for them I don't know what would have become of us."53 The Farmers' Association, conscious of where its markets lay, declared in 1917 that any surplus of African labor in Northern Rhodesia should be made available to recruiters from the Congo, not Southern Rhodesia. 54
As elsewhere in colonial Africa, Tonga individuals, households, and communities faced an intrusive system, eventually backed by political domination. By no means, however, were they mere objects. Decisions they made, strategies they developed, options they pursued greatly affected the encounter. How to deal with demands made by the imperial economy, for land, for labor power? How best to extract from that system desirable goods or resources? Resist, acquiesce, accommodate, manipulate? "Straddle" various avenues of participation?
The rail line and the Congo market created ambiguity in the relationship of the Plateau Tonga to the imperial economy. In this period most areas in south central Africa were becoming either white- dominated employment centers or backwaters drained of much of their labor. North of the Zambezi, the latter predominated. The Plateau showed elements of both these situations, as well as a growing possibility of a third: Tonga peasant production. For various Tonga began to sell grain, cattle, and other items to markets served by the railway. In fact, after the outbreak of pleuro-pneumonia in 1915 put an end to the Bulozi cattle trade, the Plateau Tonga were among the few Africans in Northern Rhodesia with a regular chance to sell something besides their own labor.