The Story of Rhodesia/Development

Railway and telegraphEdit

The railroad from Salisbury to Umtali—ultimately bound for Beira on the Mozambican coast—opened in 1899.

Chief among the endeavours pursued by the Company during its early years were the construction of railroads and telegraph wires across the territory it governed. These respective arteries of transport and communication, vital both for the successful development of the new country and for the realisation of Rhodes's Cape to Cairo dream, were laid across the previously bare Rhodesian landscape with great speed. Strategically planned, the railways were not intended or expected to turn a profit during their early years; their construction was largely subsidised by the Company. The telegraph line from Mafeking in South Africa reached Salisbury—one third of the way from Cape Town to Cairo—in February 1892. Just under six years later, in December 1897, the Bechuanaland railway from Vryburg reached Bulawayo, making it possible to travel between the Cape and Rhodesia by train.[1]

A narrow gauge railway towards Salisbury from the Mozambican port of Beira was begun by the Portuguese in 1892, and reached the Rhodesian border at Umtali after six years. Umtali and Salisbury were linked in 1899, on a different track gauge; the gauges between Beira and Salisbury were regularised the following year. The Second Boer War then restricted the further extension of the line from Vryburg, but the completion of the Beira–Salisbury railway allowed the importation of materials. Salisbury was connected to Bulawayo and the Cape in 1902.[1] The Vryburg–Bulawayo railway was meanwhile extended up to the Zambezi, and across when the Victoria Falls Bridge opened in 1905. Continuing through North-Western Rhodesia, the railway reached Élisabethville in Katanga—by this time part of the Belgian Congo—in 1910.[2]

The rise of Rhodesian tobaccoEdit

White farming on the Pioneer Citrus Estate, near Umtali, in the 1910s

The Company originally hoped that gold prospecting between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers would reveal mineral deposits comparable to those of the South African Rand, and indeed acquired its charter in part because its founders convinced Whitehall that a "second Rand" would be found and exploited in what would become Southern Rhodesia, thereby providing more than enough capital to develop the territory without help from London. Though much gold was discovered during the 1890s, these grand expectations were not met. The Company resolved after about a decade that it could not financially sustain its domain through gold mining alone, and therefore shifted its priority to the development of white agriculture.[3]

To maximise the potential of new, white-run farms, the Company launched a wide-scale land settlement programme for white settlers. As part of this drive it reorganised the geographical distribution of native reserve areas, moving the reserves and often reducing them in size where the land was of particularly high quality. To ensure that the white farmers would retain the reliable access to markets that the nascent railway network provided, tribal reserve boundaries in various relevant places were redrawn by the Company to place the railway lines outside. The new hut taxes concurrently compelled black peasants to find paid work, which could be found in the new agricultural industry,[3] though most tribesmen were reluctant to abandon their traditional lifestyles in favour of the capitalist labour market. Managers at farms and mines often had great trouble sourcing sufficient manpower.[4]

Tobacco, initially just one of several crops earmarked for wholesale production, soon emerged as Southern Rhodesia's most prominent agricultural product, though its early development was far from stable: aside from the climactic uncertainties of the unfamiliar country and the mercurial quality of the product, the early industry was cursed by a debilitating boom and bust cycle that continued well into the 1920s. All the same, tobacco endured as the territory's staple crop, while the growers came to dominate Southern Rhodesian politics, holding a majority in the Legislative Council from 1911. Holding considerable political and economic power up to the end of Company rule in 1923, the Southern Rhodesian tobacco industry retained its prominent position for decades afterwards.[3]

Immigration and economic performanceEdit

Statue of Rhodes in Bulawayo, 1920s

White immigration to the Company realm was initially modest, but intensified during the 1900s and early-1910s, particularly south of the Zambezi. The economic slump in the Cape following the Second Boer War motivated many White South Africans to move to Southern Rhodesia, and from about 1907 the Company's land settlement programme encouraged more immigrants to stay for good.[5] The Southern Rhodesian mining and farming industries advanced considerably during this period;[6] Southern Rhodesia's annual gold output grew in worth from £610,389 in 1901 to £2,526,007 in 1908.[7] The territory first balanced revenue and expenditure in 1912.[6] There were 12,586 Whites in Southern Rhodesia in 1904, and 23,606 in 1911;[6] in 1927, four years after the end of Company rule, the Black and White populations in Southern Rhodesia were respectively 922,000 and 38,200.[8]

The White population north of the river was far smaller, with only about 3,000 settlers spread across the 300,000 square miles (780,000 km2) of Northern Rhodesia. In the same area, there were roughly 1,000,000 Black people. The Whites in Northern Rhodesia were primarily concentrated in the far west, along the railway line between Bulawayo and Élisabethville in the Belgian Congo. A community of about 250 lived in the vicinity of Fort Jameson near the eastern border. In between were vast swathes of largely uninhabited bush, which lacked roads, railways and telegraph lines, making communication between the two White communities very difficult. The amalgamation of North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia in 1911 did little to improve the situation. Northern Rhodesia suffered as the result of its artificial nature—the country was not homogeneous in terms of population, history or geography—and unlike Southern Rhodesia, it never turned a profit or became self-supporting. During 1921 alone, the Company's administration of Northern Rhodesia lost it more than £1,250,000.[9]


  1. a b [[#CITEREFWalker 1963|Walker 1963]], pp. 538, 788–789
  2. [[#CITEREFWeinthal 1923|Weinthal 1923]], p. 726
  3. a b c Rowe 2001, pp. 65–69
  4. McLaughlin 1980, p. 74
  5. Gann 1958, p. 134
  6. a b c Walker 1963, p. 664
  7. Gann 1958, p. 133
  8. Wills 1967, p. 371
  9. Walker 1963, p. 669