Livingstone is a historic colonial city and present capital of the Southern Province of Zambia, a tourism center for Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls) lying about 6 miles south on the Zambezi River, and a border town with road and rail connections to Zimbabwe on the other side of the Falls.
In 1855 Scottish missionary explorer David Livingstone became the first European to explore the Zambezi in the Livingstone vicinity and to see Victoria Falls when he was taken there by the Subiya/Kololo Chief Sekeletu.
In 1864 the Lozi threw off their Kololo masters and re-established their dominance over the Subiya and the Tokaleya in the vicinity of the Falls, which became the south-eastern margin of the greater Barotseland kingdom.
In the 1890s Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company established imperial rule north of the Zambezi and launched a wave of mineral prospecting and exploitation of other natural resources such as timber, ivory and animal skins in the territory it called North-Western Rhodesia. The main crossing point of the Zambezi was above the falls at the Old Drift, by dugout canoe, later an iron boat propelled by eight Lozi paddlers, or a barge towed across with a steel cable. The Batoka Gorge and the deep valley and gorges of the middle Zambezi meant there was no better crossing point between the Falls and Kariba Gorge, 310 miles north-east. As the Old Drift crossing became more used, a settlement sprang up there and around 1897 it became the first municipality in the country and is sometimes referred to as ‘Old Livingstone’. Proximity to mosquito breeding areas caused deaths from malaria, so after 1900 the Europeans moved to higher ground known as Constitution Hill or Sandbelt Post Office, and as that area grew into a town it was named Livingstone in honor of the explorer.
In 1904 the railway reached the Falls on the southern side and construction of the Victoria Falls Bridge started. With the new Bridge open in September 1905, Livingstone boomed and the British South Africa Company moved the capital of the territory there in 1907. In 1911 the company merged the territory with North-Eastern Rhodesia as Northern Rhodesia.
Of all the towns in Northern Rhodesia, colonial Livingstone took on a character most like those of Southern Rhodesia or South Africa at that time, with a strongly marked segregation which while not being officially enshrined as an apartheid policy, had similar practical effects. The north and western halves of the town and the town center were reserved for the colonial government and white-owned businesses and associated residential areas, while African townships such as Maramba (named after the small Maramba River flowing nearby) were in the east and south. Asians and people of mixed race owned businesses in the middle, on the eastern side of the center.
At Independence Livingstone had the benefit of some spending by the new government on development such as a vehicle assembly plant, and the benefit of tourism spending by the army of expatriates hired to assist those projects, as well as by Zambians experiencing for the first time the pride and freedom of their own country. However, from the late 1960s, when the Rhodesian UDI crisis forced Zambia to close the border at Livingstone the town suffered economic decline due to a fall in tourism and the loss of trade to the south. In the 1970s and 80s this was exacerbated by national economic woes brought on by low copper prices and the failure of the government’s economic management, so that when trade to the south re-started with Zimbabwean independence in 1980, Livingstone could not take advantage of it. The town seemed stuck in a time warp and was unable to afford new development or maintain the existing infrastructure.
In the 1981 movie The Grass is Singing (based on the Doris Lessing novel of that name) and starring Karen Black, John Thaw and John Kani, Livingstone was used as the location for a Southern Rhodesian town around 1950, for which year some of the streets in Livingstone could pass without modification.
Apart from tourism, the other hope on Livingstone’s horizon is development stimulated by the Walvis Bay Corridor with the opening of the Katima Mulilo Bridge and completion of the Transcaprivi Highway 120 miles east, which funnels more trade through the town.
The name Maramba predates Livingstone as the name of the river flowing on the eastern outskirts and the large township next to it. The name is used for a number of places and features in Livingstone and has been proposed as a new or alternative name for the city as a whole. Livingstone is the only non-African name for a town or city town in Zambia not changed since independence, largely due to the influence of first president Kenneth Kaunda, whose father was educated by Scottish missionaries who followed in David Livingstone’s footsteps.