Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Hold Britain accountable for sins of slavery

Published:Wednesday | October 14, 2015 | 12:05 AM

During British Prime Minister David Cameron's official visit to Jamaica in September, he made it clear to our people that it was time to "move on" on the issue of reparations. How do we, as proud people, the majority of whom are descendants of Africans brought to these shores by force and enslaved for more than 200 years, enriching the forefathers of the prime minister's country under a brutal, organised system of cruelty and oppression, the scars of which are evident even today, react to such dismissive treatment?

In the 245 years between the first known English slaving voyage in 1562 by Captain Hawkins and the official abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, it is calculated that British ships carried more than 3.4 million Africans to the Americas. Estimates, based on records of voyages in the archives of port customs and maritime insurance, put the total number of African slaves transported by European traders to the Americas to at least 12 million.

The Caribbean islands were described as 'jewels' in the crown of England. The profits gained from slavery were said to have helped fuel the engines of the industrial revolution with a reported £4 million pounds pouring into Britain from its West Indian plantations by the end of the 18th century, compared to one million from the rest of the world. Between 1750 and 1780, about 70 per cent of Britain's total income came from taxes on goods from its colonies, laying the foundation of its economy.

"Move on," Mr Cameron says, as if in sheer dismissal of a set of poor, black, Third-World people who dared to raise the issue of reparations for the thus-far unrepented wrongs committed by his forefathers. Indeed, the prime minister, in a sense, chides us by saying that we should be grateful for the British having played a role in liberating us from slavery.

 

property

 

It is a historical fact that the British Parliament's Abolition Act of 1833 voted £20 million to compensate the former slave owners for the loss of their 'property'. More than £6 million of that sum was paid to former slave owners in Jamaica. At the same time, the welfare of the freed slaves, 10 times larger than the number of former plantation owners and white employees, were given no compensation, no guidance, no training to enable them to rearrange their lives.

It certainly has not escaped attention that an apology has not been extended to our people since abolition, and that none was pointedly extended by the British prime minister on his state visit.

Why not an apology from Mr Cameron?

On June 15, 2010, Mr Cameron offered an apology before the House of Commons for the 1972 Bloody Sunday killing of 14 unarmed Protestants in Northern Ireland, expressing himself to be "deeply sorry", and risking the wrath of his party.

Willy Brandt, the former chancellor of West Germany, on a state visit to Poland in December 1970, joined in a commemoration to the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto and spontaneously dropped to his knees at the shrine erected in memory of those lost in the horrific gas chambers of the Nazis. Germany has since paid out billions to Israel and to Jewish survivors.

On August 24, 1996, two years after Nelson Mandela became South Africa's president, his predecessor, F.W. de Klerk, officially apologised before the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for 46 years of ruthless domination by the white supremacist government in a regime which he described as"deeply racist".

Mr Cameron was warmly welcomed by our prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, our Parliament and our people on his state visit. The gentleman was asked to address a matter of importance to our nation and he failed to do so with either respect for our people or for our history.

I stand firmly with those who are of the view that the offer of the British government should not have been accepted without an unconditional apology, together with the launch of reparations negotiations with a view to meaningfully compensate the descendants of those who were shackled to the worst form of slavery, the scars of which are still visibly with us.

- Janet Morrison is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jemorrison@hmf.com.jm.