Mon | Jan 21, 2019

Don't give Gov't one red (reparations) cent

Published:Friday | September 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM

At Emancipation, the wrong people were compensated. In 1834, Jamaica had 309,331 enslaved people, and their owners received £6,161,927.5.10 or rather more than PS19.0.0 per head in compensation for the loss of their property. The former slaves received no compensation for the loss of their freedom, their homeland and their heritage. This has got to be one of the greatest travesties of justice in the history of mankind!

Slavery was, after all, an offence against the enslaved persons. Sons and daughters of Africa were torn from their homeland and family in chains, and brought forcibly to a foreign land, and had a foreign language and culture forced upon them. The slave traders and slavemasters were the oppressors, even though slavery was legal in Jamaica. But it was not legal in England.

The famous decision on June 22, 1772 by Lord Chief Justice Mansfield declared that there could be no slavery in England, and the 14,000 enslaved people there were immediately set free. In 1807, it became illegal for any Britisher to trade in slaves. Why then was slavery itself still legal in Jamaica? The contradictions were patent.

Legal freedom surely was only the beginning of establishing justice; some form of compensation was payable to the former slaves, not just in cash, but also in terms of educational and occupational opportunities. The former slaves should have been elevated to a social status equal to their former masters, who had so shamefully subjugated their fellow human beings. But the former slaves did not have land, so they had no right to vote or to stand for public office. The planters were the legislators, the magistrates, the prosecutors and the juries, which led to injustice - and the Morant Bay Rebellion.

Slavery was a crime against humanity for which no one was punished - except the victims themselves. The slave owners held on to their landed property, and with their compensation money were able to, largely, retain their high socio-economic status over the decades, whether in Jamaica, the British Isles or elsewhere. Today, the descendants of slaves live in deep rural poverty and in the ghettos of Kingston, Spanish Town, May Pen and Montego Bay, where garrisons and gangs flourish.

The scandal of inequality in Jamaica has its origin in slavery and the perverse Emancipation process. The Jamaican Establishment did not handle Emancipation well (it accepted it grudgingly as an imposition from Whitehall), and even today pays scant respect to the descendants of former slaves. Our pork-barrel politics, substandard education system, and the behaviour of our security forces are ample evidence of this. Political independence has done little to redress the balance.

reparations for descendants

I support the call for reparations to be paid to descendants of the former slaves. What is unclear is how it is to be done and who exactly is to be paid. I do not support the recommendations of the National Commission on Reparations (NCR), which has determined that Jamaica would be due at least £2.3 trillion (approximately J$416.3 trillion) from any slavery reparations paid by Britain to the region, and that this money should be paid to the Government of Jamaica. The recommendation is that the reparations money would be able to pay off Jamaica's national debt of $2 trillion and set the nation on a new economic path.

It is the descendants of former slaves who are owed reparations, not the Jamaican Government. The report of the Government's NCR is self-serving and corrupt. Jamaica's $2-trillion national debt has nothing to do with slavery, but is directly the result of poor and corrupt governance since Independence. Generations of Jamaicans yet unborn will be saddled with repaying this huge debt transacted by identifiable modern Jamaican politicians.

I put it to you that Jamaicans are owed two sets of reparations: one from the botched Emancipation exercise in 1834; and one from the botched Independence exercise, beginning in 1962. The two should not be conflated; the responsibility for the first lies with Britain, and for the second with the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The people's reparations money should not be used to bail out the Government for its bad decisions.

Government should not get its grubby hands on the people's slavery reparations money. The British must see to the establishment of NGOs designed to ensure that the reparations money ends up with the people to whom it is owed.

As to the money we are owed by the corrupt and incompetent PNP and JLP politicians, that is going to be harder to collect than the British money.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development scientist. Email feedback to