Part of the St Antony’s Series book series


No offspring of the industrial revolution was the object of more heartfelt panegyrics or dedicated mythologisation during the nineteenth century than the railway. Even intellectual gravediggers of capitalism such as Karl Marx acknowledged its material and symbolic power. Railway building absorbed vast quantities of European capital throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the colonial context, the railway came to be seen as a means of extending and entrenching empire; it was a vanguard of imperialism.


Railway Company White Worker Black Labour White Labour Settler Community 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    D. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford, 1990), p. 240.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    S. Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood (London, 1986), p. 32.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The regional railway map was completed in 1931, when the Benguella Railway Company, which linked Katanga with the Angolan coastal port of Lobito Bay, opened. The Chemin de Fer du Haut-Katanga connected the Benguella railway and the Rhodesian railway system, which now sat at the centre of a railway network which encompoassed the south, east and west coasts of colonial Africa. But the Benguella route was the poor relation. The BSA Co. always saw it as a threat to the stranglehold of the Rhodesian railway system over the copper traffic which came to be its lifeblood. Chapter 2 describes how that threat was nullified.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    I. R. Phimister, An Economic and Social History of Zimbabwe, 1890–1948. Capital Accumulation and Class Struggle (London, 1988), pp. 118–9; Sir T. Gregory, Ernest Oppenheimer and the Economic Development of Southern Africa (London, 1962), p. 435.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For a more detailed exposition of the origins and character of this revisionist historiography, see B. Freund, The Making of Contemporary Africa (London, 1984), ch. 1.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    L. Vail, ‘The Making of an Imperial Slum: Nyasaland and its Railways’, Journal of African History, XVI (1975). See also L. Vail, ‘Railway Development and Colonial Underdevelopment: The Nyasaland Case’, in R. Palmer and N. Parsons (eds), The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa (London, 1977).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    J. McCracken, ‘Labour in Nyasaland: An Assessment of the 1960 Railway Workers Strike’, Journal of Southern African Studies, XIV (1988); T. Woods, ‘“Bread with Freedom and Peace”: Rail Workers in Malawi, 1954–75’, Journal of Southern African Studies, XVIII (1992).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    There are, of course, many biographies of Rhodes himself which there is not sufficient space here to consider. The most notable recent biography is Robert Rotberg’s The Founder. Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power (Oxford, 1988). It does not, however, have much that is new to say on Rhodes’ railway projects.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    I. R. Phimister, ‘Rhodes, Rhodesia and the Rand’, Journal of Southern African Studies, I (1974).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See draft chapter 6 of S. Thornton’s thesis. ‘A History of the African Population of Bulawayo’ (University of Manchester draft PhD. thesis, n.d.).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    This was originally published in 1973 as Railways of Rhodesia.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    L. Weinthal (ed.), The Story of the Cape to Cairo Railway and River Route from 1887 to 1922 (London, 1923); G. Pauling, Chronicles of a Contractor (London, 1926); H.F. Varian, Some African Milestones (Oxford, 1953) O. Letcher, When Life was Rusted Through (Bulawayo, 1973); Baron E.B. d’Erlanger, The History of the Construction and Finance of the Rhodesian Transport System (Privately Printed, 1939); K. Fairbridge, The Autobiography of Kingsley Fairbridge (London, 1927).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    I. R. Phimister, ‘Towards a History of Zimbabwe’s Rhodesia Railways’, Zimbabwean History, XII (1981) p. 79; as we shall see, Phimister himself returned in more detail to the question of the railways as an ‘expression of imperialism’ in his pathbreaking An Economic and Social History of Zimbabwe.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    This study is a revised version of my doctoral thesis entitled ‘Capital and Labour on the Rhodesian Railway System, 1890–1939’ (University of Oxford, 1986). Apart from changes in argument and emphasis, the most important change is the extension of its chronological focus up to 1947, the year in which the railway system was purchased from the BSA Co. by the governments of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Bechuanaland Protectorate.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 51.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    V.I. Lenin, Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism (London, 1917); J.A. Hobson, Imperialism. A Study (London, 1902); Wm R. Louis (ed.), Imperialism. The Robinson and Gallagher Controversy (New York, 1976); D. Fieldhouse, Economics and Empire (London, 1973); R. Owen and R. Sutcliffe, Studies in the Theory of Imperialism (London, 1972).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    P.J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins, British Imperialism. Innovation and Expansion, 1688–1914 (London, 1993), pp. 10–22, 49–51. The phrase ‘railway imperialism’ derives from the collection of case-studies of the same name, edited by Clarence Davis and Kenneth Wilburn Junior (Connecticut, 1991). The most rewarding sections of this uneven collection are in fact the introduction and conclusion, both by Ronald Robinson, in which he explores the complex relationship between the railway and empire.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    A bibliography of the extant literature on these issues would make a book in itself. The following are some key texts: Paul A. Baran and P. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York, 1966); H. Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capital (New York, 1974); E. Mandel, Late Capitalism (London, 1975); N. Smith, Uneven Development (New York, 1984); A. Gunder Frank, Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment (New York, 1979); M. Legassick, ‘Perspectives on African Underdevelopment’, Journal of African History, XVII (1976); G. Kay, Development and Underdevelopment (London, 1975); B. Warren, Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism (London, 1980).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    The quote is lifted from the title of Leroy Vail’s ‘Mozambique’s Chartered Companies: The Rule of the Feeble’, Journal of African History, XVII (1976).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    For discussions of settler-colonialism see: D. Denoon, Settler Capitalism. The Dynamics of Dependent Development in the Southern Hemisphere (Oxford, 1983); A. Emmanuel, ‘Settler-Colonialism and the Myth of Investment Imperialism’, New Left Review (1972); K. Good, ‘Settler Colonialism in Rhodesia’, African Affairs, 73 (1974); G. Arrighi, ‘The political economy of Rhodesia’, in G. Arrighi and J. Saul, Essays on the Political Economy of Africa (New York, 1973); M.P.K. Sorrenson, Origins of White Settlement in Kenya (Oxford, 1968).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Arrighi, ‘The Political Economy of Rhodesia’, p. 336.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    See chapters 3 and 4 of Phimister’s An Economic and Social History of Zimbabwe. Phimister appears to assign less significance than I do to the element of interdependence between the BSA Co. and the Southern Rhodesian settler community.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    I. R. Phimister, ‘Accommodating Imperialism: the Compromise of the Settler State in Southern Rhodesia, 1922–9’, Journal of African History, XXV (1984) pp. 294–8.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    F.A. Johnstone, Class, Race and Gold. A Study of Class Relations and Racial Discrimination in South Africa (London, 1976); R. Davies, Capital, State and White Labour in South Africa, 1900–60. An Historical Materialist Analysis of Class Formation and Class Relations (Brighton, 1979).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    K. Marx, Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (London, 1976), Vol. 1, pp. 279–80.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    J. Lewis, Industrialisation and Trade Union Organisation in South Africa, 1924–55 (Cambridge, 1984); E. Webster, Cast in a Racial Mould. Labour Process and Trade Unionism in the Foundries (Johannesburg, 1985).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    M. Burawoy, Manufacturing Consent. Changes in the Labour Process under Monopoly Capitalism (Chicago, 1979); M. Burawoy, The Politics of Production. Factory Regimes under Capitalism and Socialism (London, 1985).Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    This interpretation goes against that of Harry Braverman in Labour and Monopoly Capital (New York, 1974). Braverman believed that monopoly capital represented the domination of capitalist production by ‘Fordism’, that is, mass production and techniques of ‘scientific management’. The deskilling and mechanisation involved in the transition to mass production lead, according to Braverman, to the replacement of formal subordination by the real subordination of labour. This is not how it worked out on the Rhodesian railway system before 1947.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    C. Van Onselen, Chibaro. African Mine Labour in Southern Rhodesia, 1900–33 (London, 1976).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    The phrase ‘racial despotism’ derives from Webster, Cast in a Racial Mould, p. xiii; Van Onselen, Chibaro, pp. 227–44.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    C. Van Onselen, ‘Black Workers in Central African Industry: A Critical Essay on the Historiography and Sociology of Rhodesia’, in I. R. Phimister and C. Van Onselen, Studies in the History of African Mine Labour in Colonial Zimbabwe (Gwelo, 1978), p. 96.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    For example see R. Moorsom, ‘Underdevelopment, Contract Labour and Worker Consciousness in Namibia, 1915–72’, Journal of Southern African Studies, IV (1978) pp. 52–87.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    The main protagonists in this debate have been: S. Thornton, ‘A History of the African Population of Bulawayo’ (University of Manchester draft PhD thesis, n.d), draft chapter 6; J. Lunn, ‘The Political Economy of Protest: the 1948 General Strike in Southern Rhodesia’ (University of Manchester BA thesis, 1982); Phimister, An Economic and Social History of Zimbabwe, pp. 258–74; O. Stuart, ‘“Good Boys”, Footballers and Strikers: African Social Change in Bulawayo, 1933–53’ (University of Oxford PhD thesis, 1989), ch. 7; J. Lunn, ‘The Meaning of the 1948 General Strike in Colonial Zimbabwe’, unpub. (1994).Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    R. Palmer, Land and Racial Domination in Rhodesia (London, 1977), especially pp. 67, 117–18, 122–3, 273–4; K. Vickery, Black and White in Southern Zambia. The Tonga Plateau Economy and British Imperialism (Connecticut, 1986), especially pp. 75–9, 120–31, 189–93.Google Scholar

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© Jon Lunn 1997

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