The Lozi of Western Zambia

The ghost of Cecil Rhodes wanders far and wide. When Queen Victoria granted the Charter to Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company in 1889, the men of the company ventured throughout Central Africa claiming land until they bumped up against someone else’s border. In Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, they travelled west and encountered the Lozi of Barotseland, and signed them up with a concession for the Company to exploit the minerals, in exchange for all sorts of benefits. The Lozi chief, known by his title the Litunga, was no fool, and he extracted several conditions of self-rule in exchange. No minerals were ever found, and the Company, in breach of contract but to no-one’s surprise, reneged on all the promises. Barotseland is to this day undeveloped and poor.
Years later Northern Rhodesia was folded into the Federation, that was an unpopular move and the Federation failed. In the early 1960’s independence began to be discussed. Under the rule of Kenneth Kaunda and his party UNIP. Only. The Litunga thought otherwise, and petitioned Queen Elizabeth II for Barotseland to be declared a British Protectorate. The British Foreign Office didn’t like that proposal or the associated cost, so the idea didn’t fly, and the Litunga was obliged to negotiate as a province of Zambia. He succeeded in again wringing numerous self-rule concessions during the independence talks, on the strength of his contract with the British South Africa Company, and to this day his semi-independence is a source of great irritation to the Zambian government, but of great satisfaction to the Lozi.
PS for the pedants amongst us, there is a direct but obscure link between the names Lozi and Barotseland, where the Lozi live. German missionaries in German South-West Africa ventured far and wide spreading Christianity and German influence, and they reached the Lozi. The phonetic form of Lozi in German is written as Rotse. To this was added the Tswana prefix for ‘people’ and the result was Ba-rotse and hence Barotseland.

Chris Taylor
January 2021