David Breen

Imperialism in Rhodesia

(March 1955)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 4 No. 7, March 1955, p. 4.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The prominence given in the Press to the struggle of the Africans in Kenya, and its exaggeration of the Mau Mau “terror”, has had the effect of distorting the real nature of the struggle for national liberation in the colonies. Everything has been done to create the impression that the “backward” peoples are trying to reject the “civilising” role of British rule in Africa. The struggle that the African Mine-workers’ Union is now conducting in the Northern Rhodesian copper belt is of the utmost importance in revealing the true nature of imperialism and also the true nature of the anti-imperialist struggle.

The Mine Owners

The copper mines in Northern Rhodesia are owned by two big concentrations of international capital. The first is the Rhodesian Selection Trust (Chairman, R.L. Prain, of Canadian Nickel Company; Directors, Chester Beatty, of American Metal Company, Sir D.O. Malcolm, President of British South Africa Company, etc.). This group has its centre in London. The other group of copper companies in the Rhodesias is the Anglo-American group, which is closely connected with South African mining interests (in the person of the South African mining magnate, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer).

The profits of these companies are stupendous. In 1950, for example, out of a total income of £55.2 million in Northern Rhodesia, profits and royalties (after depreciation) totalled £31.1 million, of which £22.8 million was sent abroad to British, American and South African shareholders. Since then, profits have been even greater. For instance, the Rhokana Corporation Ltd., whose total issued capital is £3,328,000, made a total profit of over £12 million in 1952, i.e., a rate of profit of over 350 per cent. There was a dividend of 225 per cent. The rest of the companies show similar results for the foreign shareholders.


The companies are the largest employers in Northern Rhodesia. In 1953 they had 36,147 African workers on their books, and another 5,879 Europeans. African wage rates range between a minimum of £4 17s. 3d. per month for surface workers (£5 7s. 3d. per month for underground workers), and a maximum of £19 0s. 1d. per month. On 30th June, 1954, only 970 Africans were receiving this maximum while more than half were on the minimum rate.

The 6,000 European mine-workers receive, in comparison, fabulous rates. The average European rate is £89 per month for surface workers and £108 per month for underground workers. Thus, although the African workers outnumber the European worker by more than six to one, the Europeans draw more than twice as much in salaries.

African Mine Workers Strike

The African Mine-workers’ Union, which, as even the Economist admits, “is the best run black trade union in the (African – D.B.) continent,” is now on strike for raising the miserable of 3s. 1d.–3s. 4d. a shift to a minimum of 10s. 8d. a shift. The European mine-workers’ union, closely connected as it is with the mine-owners by reason of their extremely high wages, and with the “apartheid” white unions of South Africa, are continuing their traditional policy of black-legging and breaking working-class solidarity in the mines; they are supporting the mine-owners’ policy of mass dismissals of African workers.

Whether the strike succeeds or fails, it clearly shows that the development of the African colonies by, first of all, preventing the drain of profits to foreign capitalists, is dependent on the struggle of the African workers to improve their conditions. Their success or failure will determine whether the colonies gain their independence or not, whether the backward countries develop or not. Their natural ally in this fight is the struggle of the workers in Britain and the other imperialist countries for socialism, for the destruction of international capitalism.

We, in Britain, can help this movement for national liberation by demanding the withdrawal of British troops in the colonies, the nationalisation without compensation of the assets of British capitalists in the colonies, and their inclusion in an expanding programme of economic and technical aid, and by condemning the “apartheid” policies of the privileged European workers’ unions in the colonies.

Last updated on 16 February 2017