The history of Northern Rhodesia was very much tied to the events in Southern Rhodesia. Cecil Rhodes had formed the British South Africa Company to prospect in the lands to the north of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The idea had been to see if the gold seam ran further north. Rhodes' representatives had signed mining concessions from Chief Lobengula of the Matabele. The Matabele were the dominant tribe between the River Limpopo and Zambesi. However that authority did not run far over the river Zambesi. However, as it suited their purposes the BSAC was prepared to leave the northern limit of the concession deliberately vague. This became more imperative for the company as it became obvious that there was no gold in the lands of the Matabele.
In 1911, the BSAC was able to provide enough of an infrastructure to combine the north eastern and north western areas into a single administrative unit. Despite this, the much hoped for gold deposits still hadn't materialised and the BSAC began to run up considerable debts and was unable to pay much in the way of returns to its shareholders. By the 1920s the finances were precarious. The white settlers in Southern Rhodesia demonstrated their desire for their own self-government through elections to the Legislative Council there.
In 1923 the charter for BSAC rule was revoked throughout the entire area of Northern and Southern Rhodesia in return for a cash payout. With a higher density of white settlers, Southern Rhodesia was awarded a significant degree of self-government. Northern Rhodesia became a colonial office protectorate with its capital at Livingstone. It had a Legislative Council, but this had no representation from the black tribes.
The economic prospects for this colony were soon to change as copper was discovered in the north of the colony in 1928. These were huge deposits and would diversify the agrarian society to a considerable degree. Northern Rhodesia would become one of the largest producers of the copper in the world and the significance of this product would be further enhanced by the advent of the Second World War. The conditions for the African workers were harsh, the precedent for poor working conditions had been set in the gold and diamond mines further south where the companies had been paranoid about workers stealing what they found. The use of compounds, poor health and safety conditions and very low wages led to several strikes. The authorities had no compunction in using force to put these down. In 1935, 13 miners were killed. The large population of Africans meant that unruly workers could always be replaced or be undercut by others desperate for work.
The 1950s would see a reevaluation of the role of empire and colonies. Some of the richer, more powerful colonies were granted their independence. Nigeria and Ghana were the first significant African colonies to gain their independence. The British government was aware that by making the richer colonies that were better able to support themselves independent they might be left with uneconomic colonies that it might never be able to get to a self-sufficient situation. It therefore experimented with the creation of federations of colonies. It was tried in East Africa and also then the idea was brought to Central Africa as Northern and Southern Rhodesia were to be combined with Nyasaland were formed into the Central African Federation from 1953.
This was an unhappy union from the very start. The black Africans in Northern Rhodesia were requesting the same rights as the whites had in Southern Rhodesia. The white Southern Rhodesian government resented using their wealth to pay for an infrastructure for the other two nations. Nyasaland was too poor to contribute much at all. Finally, the black Africans were becoming increasingly suspicious that the federation was a way of preserving white and colonial domination over them. In a period of rising nationalism the federation would ultimately fall apart in 1963.
The withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961 and its imposition of harsh racist laws was an accute embarrassment to the British Government. They made reassurances to the other black African leaders that they would never allow this to happen again. Representation of blacks became a priority and the Legislative Council's were adjusted to reflect this fact. A two stage election held in October and December 1962 resulted in an African majority in Northern Rhodesia for the very first time.
It was this council that requested more democratic representation and self-government. The British government was having problems clawing back some of the rights it had given to the Southern Rhodesia white government. Denying self government to a black Legislative Council would smack of racism and worry other African colonies with similar demands for independence. Britain would prefer to hand over independence in a peaceful manner. There were plenty of communists and nationalists who were running out of patience and would seize it if it were delayed too long. The British therefore granted independence to the new state of Zambia on October 24th, 1964.