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Apologise for slavery! - Reparations committee wants David Cameron to say sorry for wrongs of UK past

Published:Thursday | September 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
David Cameron
Professor Verene Shepherd

Professor Verene Shepherd, chair of the National Commission on Reparation (NCR), is insisting that Jamaican legislators settle for nothing short of an apology for the ills of slavery from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is expected to visit the island next week.

"I think he should issue an unambiguous apology," Shepherd told The Gleaner yesterday.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller yesterday confirmed that Jamaica is preparing to host two foreign leaders next week, one of whom is widely believed to be Cameron.

"The Government of Jamaica is preparing to host official visits to Jamaica by two special guests between September 29 and October 1. The timing of the announcement of both visits and the itineraries are being agreed between the Government of Jamaica and the respective foreign Governments," Simpson Miller told The Gleaner via email.

"The matters to be discussed will be issues of mutual interest to Jamaica and the foreign governments. As soon as all arrangements are finalised, the people of Jamaica will be updated," the prime minister said in response to questions about the purpose of the visits.

In addition to Cameron, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, will make an official visit to the island next week.

Meanwhile, the call from the NCR follows similar ones made by veteran member of parliament Mike Henry and reparation activist Dr Jermaine McCalpin.


Wrote to PM


The NCR has written to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to urge her to raise the issue of reparation with the British prime minister.

"What Britain has been doing is issuing statements of regret. A statement of regret is not an apology. An apology takes responsibility for the crime against humanity which slavery and the slave trade was. It would commit to repair the damage and it would also commit to non-repetition," Shepherd said.

"It is well-known that Britain was primarily responsible for the forced relocation of millions of Africans from their homelands, via the trans-Atlantic Middle Passage, to Jamaica, and for their brutalisation through the system of chattel enslavement under plantation slavery from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The Compensation Records contain firm evidence of the beneficiaries of that system, including the ancestors of David Cameron," the NCR said in a media release yesterday.


Ancestors paid for slavery


Cameron's ancestors were among the wealthy families who received generous reparation payments that would be worth millions of pounds today.

The British government paid out £20 million to compensate some 3,000 families who owned slaves for the loss of their property when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies after the passing of the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. A total of £10 million went to slave-owning families in the Caribbean and Africa, while the other half went to absentee owners living in Britain.

The compensation records show that General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire in Scotland during the late 1700s, was Cameron's cousin and son of one of Cameron's great-uncles, the second Earl of Fife.

He was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3 million today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica.

"If he comes to Jamaica and he does not make an apology and he does not engage in the process of reparatory justice, to me, it would be doing a disrespect to the people of Jamaica".

The NCR has said the Caribbean is due approximately J$416.3 trillion in reparation money. Using the calculations of economic historian David Richardson, it is estimated that the total reparation money owed by Britain to its former colonies is £7.5 trillion.

Shepherd said if the Jamaican Government fails to raise the issue with Cameron, "it would have missed a golden moment to show that they really believed in the motion that they passed in Parliament".

The House of Representatives has approved a motion, brought by Henry, for Jamaica to seek reparations from Britain for the ills of slavery.

Mindful that there are some Jamaicans of African descent who are not in favour of reparations, Shepherd said this is mainly due to them being mis-educated.

"The colonial education that our people have received and the Christianity that they are wrapped up in have distanced themselves from their African past, and they don't think this has anything to do with them," she said.