Meet the new researcher: Duncan Money

Duncan Money is a historian of Central and Southern Africa during the 19th and 20th century. His research focuses primarily on the mining industry and, in particular, the Zambian Copperbelt. Previously, Duncan was a postdoctoral fellow at the International Studies Group, University of the Free State, South Africa.

Where does your fascination for the mining industry come from?
I grew up in a former mining region in the UK, in West Cumbria. The mining industry had gone, but its legacy was all around, influencing things from the shape of the coastline which had been altered by mine dumps to the time of day people ate their meals. As a child, I remember visiting mines, then still operating, and becoming aware, and captivated, by the realisation that there was a vast subterranean world beneath our feet, invisible from the surface. This fascination is still with me. This later intersected with another interest: African history, which I studied as an undergraduate. So my current research on the Copperbelt is the meeting of two now long-term interests.

Tell us a bit more about the Copperbelt.
It’s a large mining region stretching across the border between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and one of the centres of the global copper industry, though on a comparatively smaller scale than in the past. In the 1960s, almost 20% of world copper output came from the region, now it’s around 10%.

The whole history of copper mining, and therefore the recent history of this region, is one of boom and bust as the price of copper is very volatile, and what is happening with copper prices is immediately apparent when you visit the Copperbelt. If copper prices are up then business is booming, lots of construction work is happening, there are new cars on the street and shops are bustling; if the price is down, everything looks depressed.

Mining has taken place in the region for many centuries, but the scale of operations changed dramatically in the early twentieth century, as demand for copper increased enormously. Copper is really the stuff that made the modern world in a practical sense: electrification schemes, telecommunications, armaments, consumer goods, etc. all needed copper, which had to be dug out of the ground somewhere.

Tens of thousands of people were needed for this work on the Copperbelt as large-scale mechanised operations got underway. The whole region was at the centre of a great transformation that people at the time, including many scholars, believed was the equivalent of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, and thought that developments in Central Africa would simply follow patterns already established in Europe, with the same social changes following economic changes.

What became the focus of your research?
The Copperbelt’s African mineworkers have been extensively researched, so I started looking at white workers. There were several thousand white mineworkers on the Copperbelt mines. Recruited for their industrial skills, they constituted a migrant workforce moving between mines and industrial centres around the world and had a kind of global work experience. Often, these people have been regarded as white settlers, but they did not hang around for long and usually moved after a few years.

These white workers were mainly from the Anglophone world, but there were also smaller numbers from Italy, Germany and other European nations. The same person could show up at a mine in Canada, South Africa, Australia, Britain or the United States. I became interested in the implications of their constant migration, and the kind of ideas and experiences they brought with them to the Copperbelt.

Among these ideas were militant trade unionism and racial segregation. White mineworkers quickly formed trade unions that were militant against the mine owners, and racist towards the African mineworkers they worked alongside, and who did the hardest manual work. This combination of industrial militancy and racism was, for the whites, a successful one, and they became extraordinarily affluent. They were among the best paid workers on the entire planet, and had housing, healthcare, welfare and social activities all provided by the mining companies. White miners drove Jaguars, could join yacht clubs or flying clubs, drink as much whiskey as they wanted; but this didn’t buy them happiness. They would still go on strike all the time and seemed to be permanently dissatisfied.

Where did their dissatisfaction come from?
This was a great puzzle for me, until I realised that these mineworkers did not see all these benefits as gifts from the mining companies which they should be grateful for, but as things they had gained through struggle, they had forced the mining companies to give them. The demands these white mineworkers made on the mining companies were closely informed by copper prices (demanding higher salaries if prices went up) and by what wages and working conditions were like at other mines. Through personal contacts, and information from recent arrivals, they knew how many hours miners worked elsewhere in the world, and what wages those workers got. So, they demanded this for themselves too.

These struggles were militant and racialised, these people saw themselves both as ‘workers’ and as ‘white’. They formed a whites-only trade union and restricted well-paid skilled work on the mines to whites. In the late 1950s and 1960s, however, the nature of mining changed and the labour requirements of the industry changed. The kind of skills these white workers had were no longer as important, and the power they had, collectively, over the industry diminished. The colour bar was eroded in the 1960s, though a racial division of labour continued even after Zambia became independent in 1964. This continued until the early 1970s when there was a global recession and most white mineworkers left.

After the 1970s, and even today, you still have white expatriates working on the mines, but they do not regard themselves as a class with collective interests. This is a good thing for Zambia. There is an idea that global connections are unambiguously positive forces, but this disappearance of a highly mobile, militant white working-class who could exercise a stranglehold over the economy is, I think, to the benefit of modern-day Zambia.

What does your research tell us today?
One thing that emerges from my research is that people in the past, even the very recent past, were often very different to today. How people I researched lived, understood their place in the world, related to each other, and formed their identity is quite different to contemporary society. Understanding what is different about the past, and how and why things can change is something I think is incredibly important. Many things that seem permanent are not fixed unalterable facts of the world but can change. Understandings of the past, and appeals to the past, are used to justify all sorts of things in the present, including basic questions about how society is organised (who gets what, where, how and why). This is why studying that past is crucial.

You also manage a project to preserve and digitize the archives of the Mineworkers’ Union of Zambia. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?
The origins of the union are in the Northern Rhodesian African Mineworkers’ Trade Union, which was formed in 1949 and fought bitter struggles over wages, working conditions and an end to racial discrimination in 1950s and 1960s. The white mineworkers union had inadvertently provided a model for African mineworkers, who took much the same approach to industrial relations in this period: strike first and make demands later, and everything on the mines and in the mining towns was up for negotiation, not only wages and conditions of work.

The struggles of this union were successful and by Zambia’s independence African mineworkers were among the highest-paid African workers on the continent. In 1967, the organisation merged with other mining unions to form the Mineworkers’ Union of Zambia. This union later played a key role in the struggle to restore multi-party democracy in Zambia from the late 1980s (Zambia having become a one-party state in 1973).

Today, the Mineworkers’ Union is a diminished organisation with a smaller membership, something which is a global phenomenon. The mining industry, in Zambia and elsewhere, employs far fewer permanent workers and relies on contractors, who bring in their own employees and are difficult to unionise. The union therefore doesn’t have the resources to preserve its own archive, and its substantial collection of historical documents was deteriorating and at risk of disappearing.

The project I have run is funded by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam and aims to catalogue, digitize and preserve the archive. It is almost complete and will be available to researchers in the near future.


Duncan Money and Danelle van Zyl-Hermann (eds.), Rethinking White Societies in Southern Africa, 1930s-1990s (London: Routledge, 2020).

Duncan Money, ‘‘Aliens’ on the Copperbelt: Zambianization, nationalism and non-Zambian Africans in the mining industry’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 45, 5 (2019), pp. 859-75.

Duncan Money, ‘Race and Class in the Postwar World: The Southern Africa Labour Congress’, International Labor and Working-Class History, 94 (2018), pp. 133-55.

Duncan Money, ‘The World of European Labour on the Northern Rhodesian  Copperbelt, 1940-1945’, International Review of Social History, 60, 2  (2015), pp. 225-55.


2020 - present: Researcher, African Studies Centre Leiden

2016 - 2019: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, International Studies Group, University of the Free State

2018: John Brockway Foundation Fellow, Huntington Library, Los Angeles

2012 - 2016: DPhil in History. University of Oxford

2010-2011: MA in History. School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

2006 - 2009: BA in Modern History and Politics. University of Oxford


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Lidewyde Berckmoes, Assistant Professor in Regional Conflict in Contemporary Africa

Rahmane Idrissa: Assistant Professor in Islam in Contemporary Africa

Jan-Bart Gewald, director of the African Studies Centre Leiden