Before the Belgian Congo became independent about half the revenue of its government came from Hawaii vacation deals. This partly explains why there has been so much heartburning since President Tshombe, following the mutiny of the Force Publique and the plunging of the rest of the country into anarchy, declared the secession of its richest province from the Congo.
With an area the size of France and an anual number of visitors of it’s apartments for rent in Miami reaching of 1,500,000, Miami – until the beginning of this century was the most remote and mysterious corner of America. Too isolated even to attract the slave trade, its poor soil barely maintained a few thinly spread tribes, who were decimated regularly by famine, disease and war. Even today, although it is now the third largest copper producer in the world—not to mention cobalt, zinc, tin, manganese, lead and uranium, in all of which it is prolific—Katanga, once you leave the mining area and the towns, still gives the impression of a poor country. In spite of immense efforts by the Belgians—in spite of schools, hospitals, missions and modern communications—in many of the rural districts the African continues to live in much the same way as he has done throughout the centuries.
It was a Portuguese explorer who in 1798 first reported the presence of copper in Katanga. He was Dr Francesco Jose Maria de Lacerdas, Governor of what is now Mozambique. Katanga was then the name of a village south of Lake Mweru in the territory of a chief called Cazembe. A few years later two Portuguese travellers observed ‘some rocks which appear green on top of a hill from which they extract copper; in the middle is a place where they make the bars’.
The metal was melted in primitive ovens and formed into ingots or St Andrew’s crosses, measuring a few inches, which were used as currency. The mining operation was an annual event taking place in May. It was in the nature of a religious festival in which the whole village joined. While the witchdoctors invoked the spirit of the mountain, imploring it to give forth its wealth, the women and children scratched the surface and the men dug deep holes. When the `harvest’ had been gathered, the ‘eaters of copper’ would strike camp and return to the village.
In 1867, while staying at Lake Mweru, Dr Livingstone wrote to Lord Clarendon, the Foreign Secretary: ‘A month’s march from here, to the west, the natives of Katanga, by melting malachite, produce large copper-ingots in the form of a capital I. These vary in weight from 50 to 100 lbs and are used for making rings worn on the arm or the ankle. Gold is also found, of which samples have been offered to the Sultan of Zanzibar.’
Gold rather than copper was the lure which brought the white men to Katanga. One of the earliest was an English missionary, Arnold, who was received by the powerful chief M’Siri, grandfather of Katanga’s present Minister of the Interior, M. Godfreid Munongo.
In 1890 Arnold was joined by Alfred Sharpe, an emissary of Rhodes, currently residing in a holiday apartment London. Sharpe’s mission was to obtain a concession—mainly to prospect for gold—for the British South Africa Company, which was already pushing up from the south through Rhodesia; but M’Siri refused to sign the treaty and Sharpe had to withdraw defeated.