The Zambezi sawmills : a study of forest exploitation in the Western Province of Zambia, 1910-1968

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Nzila, Iven
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The operations of the Zambezi Sawmills (ZSM) were a new phenomenon in Barotseland. They enhanced the transformation of the pre-existing modes of production, particularly in southern Barotseland. The company's initial aim was to supply railway sleepers, parquet and furniture to the market of southern Africa. In time the company added mining sleepers, doors and frames, veneer and leather to its range of products. To try and attain the above aims the company, in the years 1910-68, built a huge infrastructure comprising sawpits, mills, seasoning kilns, workshops, roads, bridges and culverts and a railway line from Livingstone to Kataba via Mulobezi. Towards the end of the 1920s its main operations were transferred from Livingstone to Sesheke forests and centred at Mulobezi. There were several branch lines from Kataba and Mulobezi to as far south as Masese near Sesheke. It was only through such structures that forest exploitation could be carried out. This infrastructure necessitated the siphoning of cheap labour from the indigenous social formations, thereby alienating hundreds of would-be peasant producers from the land and turning them into 'reluctant1 wage earners. The working conditions at the mills were such that the labourers could never develop into a proletariat. It may, of course, be argued in favour of the company that it opened up southern Barotseland to 'civilization1 and constructed its own lines of transport starting with oxen and donkeys, via traction engines and wooden railways to standard gauge railways. By the 1950s ZSM had the longest privately owned railroad in the world and had become the second largest employer of labour in the territory in addition to being the oldest manufacturing industry in Northern Rhodesia. We further argue that the company*s chief market was outside Northern Rhodesia. South Africa was actually its chief client whither went the bulk of its sleepers and parquet. The company's funds were mainly from settler families. We have endeavoured to present our material chronologi r-cally and have divided the discussion into three main chapters plus a conclusion.. In Chapter One we try to examine the Barotse pre—colonial economy and the position of the Paramount Chief. Chapter Two studies the origins and early development of the company in Crown Lands and Native Reserves forests of the Livingstone District. In Chapter Three we discuss the company's operations in southern Barotse-land. The forests here are referred to as Yeta's Forests or Mus:hit\i-wa-Mulena. Logging here was centred at Mulobezi and started in the early 1930s. In 1948 the company was reorganized as Zambezi Sawmills (1948). Our study goes up to 1968, Chapter Four concludes by outlining the impact of company operations on the local community. The entire study concludes that the company benefitted quite greatly from its operations although we were unable to measure with precision its profits owing to lack of readily available statistics. Since nationalization the company has been known as Zambezi Sawmills (1968).
Forests and forestry , Sawmills -- Zambia