Peasants, Settlers, and State in the Copperbelt Era, 1925-1939
In the late 1920s the imperial economy in Northern Rhodesia underwent a profound change when exploitation of huge copper deposits in the territory's north--the Copperbelt--began. Since these years virtually all sectors of the economic structure of Northern Rhodesia/Zambia have been heavily influenced, if not totally dominated, by copper export. The appearance of the Copperbelt and its related foodstuffs markets shaped the environment in which black and white agriculturalists, many of them on the Tonga Plateau, operated. Eventually competition for the markets came to a head; state intervention was crucial in resolving it.
Europeans had known of the presence of copper in the Copperbelt region by the turn of the century, and some small mines like Bwana Mkubwa had already operated there. But the oxide ores near the surface contained only 3 to 5 percent copper, compared to 15 percent in the neighboring fields of the Belgian Katanga; ores of the lower range were often disdained and used for railway ballast and the like. Two changes, however, made mining interests take a closer look at the Copperbelt by the mid-1920s. First, world consumption of copper was rising dramatically (it doubled between 1913 and 1929) and with it the price, as the metal was used extensively in the burgeoning electrical, automobile, and armament industries. Second, advancing technology permitted exploitation of the Copperbelt's valuable sulphide ores (which lay beneath the oxide ores), through developments of deep-level mining and the "flotation" process of extracting the metal from sulphide ores. Meanwhile, the British South Africa Company, about to depart as the territory's administrator but still holder of its mineral rights, altered the mining laws in 1923 to favor very large, well-capitalized firms, who were given vast concessions to prospect for and develop minerals.
Spurred by Copperbelt entrepreneurs like Edmund Davis and the American A. C. Beatty, some of the world's great mining combines began to invest substantially in the new fields. By 1930 the Northern