The State of Katanga was a short-lived, disputed territory that, during its short three years of independence from 1960 through 1963, issued money and stamps until dissolved. Prior to its independence, the territory had been part of the Belgian Congo, a colony of Belgium. When Belgian Congo was given independence from Belgium in 1960, Katanga broke away, forming its state on July 11, 1960.
While Belgium agreed to the independence of Katanga, the state’s separate identity was disputed from the start. Congo didn’t recognize the State of Katanga and was adamant that it was part of the newly free Republic of Congo. Belgium, which had mining companies in Katanga, left troops in the territory that Congo demanded to be withdrawn. This dispute became known as the Congo Crisis. Congo went to the United Nations demanding assistance in expelling the Belgians, threatening that otherwise, it would seek help from the Soviet Union on this matter.
During the Cold War, Soviet intervention in various countries was an issue, especially with the United States. However, this became a dilemma because many nations did not want to send troops to Congo to fight over this territorial dispute. Yet, they also did not want to further Communist and Soviet influence in Africa. The crisis was resolved when Belgium withdrew its military forces, which were replaced by a United Nations peacekeeping force. Ground fighting did occur with the result of the State of Katanga being dissolved and became part of the Republic of Congo in 1963.
During its brief time as an independent state, Katanga issued three coins. The coins, all with the same design, were issued as bronze 1 Franc and 5 Francs pieces as well as a 5 Francs gold numismatic collectible. The design was simple yet attractive. The obverse features a raised ring with an incuse “KATANGA” set into the design, along with two Katanga crosses. Centered and raised on the obverse is a group of bananas still on their stalk. The reverse features a Katanga cross with “BANQUE NATIONALE” set above the top of the cross. The denomination is set to the 9 o’clock position, and the date at 6 o’clock both not interfering with the design.
The Katanga Cross is primitive money of copper bullion poured into a sand cast in the form of a cross. These crosses were made by the Katanga tribe and circulated in the territory of Katanga, which was a rich area for copper mining. The Katanga Cross was so valuable at the time that a single cross could buy 10 kilos of flour, two crosses purchased a gun, three to five crosses bought a male slave, and five to 10 could buy a female slave. The Katanga Franc, when issued in 1961, was on par with the Belgium Franc – about 50 Francs to one United States dollar. By the time the country was annexed back to the Congo, the value had fallen to 195 Francs to one United States dollar.
Collectors of Katanga coins can build a collection rather simply. With only three coins issued, it isn’t hard to assemble a complete set. The 1 Franc and 5 Francs are common, costing only a few US dollars each, even in uncirculated condition. For both bronze issues, finding choice coins grading above MS65 is a difficulty, with the finest of both grading only MS65 at PCGS. The gold 5 Francs struck for collectors is also abundant and can be found for a moderate premium over the gold value. Private-issue fantasy coins made by people to deceive someone into believing that a fictitious coin is a legitimate issue have unfortunately made their ways to many collectors. These fantasy coins hold no true monetary value other than serving as novelties. Authentic Katanga Crosses are also available for advanced collectors. These pieces are generally treated more as African artwork or artifacts today, but collectors of primitive money often have a few in their collections. A real Katanga Cross can be bought for as little as a few hundred United States dollars. However, collectors need to ascertain that any Katanga Crosses they buy are being sold by reputable dealers or auction houses to ensure authenticity.
The coinage of Katanga represents a fun, small series with an interesting history, great designs, and origin from a country that no longer exists. Indeed, these pieces are excellent for collectors who wish to venture into world coin collecting or begin pursuing African coins with ease.