The nationalist movement was given impetus in the early 1950s when the Colonial Office agreed to have Northern Rhodesia joined in a federation with Nyasaland (Malawi), also a British protectorate, and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Southern Rhodesia, under white settler rule, was bankrupt, and saw Northern Rhodesia, with its copper wealth as, to quote one of its political figures, a ‘milch cow’.
Zambian opposition to federation, in which whites and Asians were prominent, was not strong enough to prevent its imposition in 1953. During its 10 years of existence, as Zambians had anticipated, hundreds of millions of pounds were syphoned off to Southern Rhodesia. The white settlers there built up an impressive economic structure while the ‘milch cow’ remained without a single tarred highway, let alone a university or even an adequate school system or healthcare service.
In the mid-fifties, the failed campaign against federation became a struggle for full independence. When battle-weary Nkumbula seemed inadequate to the task, his ANC split. Younger and more dynamic nationalists formed first the Zambia African National Congress (which was banned and its leaders imprisoned) and then in 1958, the United National Independence Party (UNIP). When he came out of detention, Kenneth David Kaunda, a charismatic activist who had been a school teacher, was given the leadership of the new party. UNIP engaged in a continuous and largely peaceful campaign for independence (though there was a violent uprising in the north in the country, put down by the Federal Army).
By 1960 the British Government, in the famous ‘There is a wind of change blowing through Africa’ speech by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, had acknowledged that the days of colonial (or minority) rule on the continent were coming to an end. The premier of the white-dominated Federation Roy Welensky, threatened to declare unilateral independence from Britain, but was baulked. When Zambian trade unions, including now powerful miners, threw their weight behind UNIP, the nationalist momentum became unstoppable. Intense and often violent rivalry between Kaunda’s UNIP and Nkumbula’s ANC was eventually neutralised in a transitional coalition government.