HARARE – Some years ago I was discussing the payment of compensation to the Jews for the suffering they endured at the hands of the Nazis during World War II with my friend Anthony Chapman.
I likened that other crime against humanity, the capture and transportation of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean to work as slaves on plantations, in mines, industry and as house servants fand wondered why Africans were never compensated.
But Anthony disagreed with me. He argued that while slave trade was also a crime against humanity it does not come close to the Jewish holocaust.
We agreed on that detail. You see, though his name is Anglo Saxon, Anthony Chapman is black. His ancestors are among those who survived the voyage across the Atlantic.
According to ship records, it is estimated around 12,5 million people were transported as slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean from the 16th century until the trade was banned in the then British Empire in 1807.
Though it is difficult to come up with figures, in 1999 the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission asked “the West” to pay Africa $777 thousand billion within five years in reparation for enslaving Africans while colonising the continent.
At a meeting in Accra, the commission also called for all international debt owed by Africa to be “unconditionally cancelled’’.
The Accra Declaration issued at the conference says that money will be demanded from those who participated in slavery and colonialism.
Not everyone agrees with reparations. One of the reasons given by those against the idea is that Africans were complicit.
On the other hand, there is no question that Europe and America would not be the economic powerhouses they are today without the blood, sweat, tears and toil of African slaves.
While some institutions have been previously named as beneficiaries of slavery, a three-year University College London (UCL) study has for the first time revealed names of British people who were compensated for the loss of their slaves after slavery was abolished.
The English daily, The Independent, quotes Nick Draper who studied the compensation papers as saying as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.
As a result, the paper says, there are now wealthy families all around the UK still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery.
Those whose ancestors were compensated for the loss of their “property” include author Eric Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, whose great-grandfather, Charles Blair, received the equivalent of $4,8m today, for the 218 slaves he owned.
The ancestors of novelist Graham Greene and poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ancestors also make the list.
The father of 19th century British Prime Minister William Gladstone received the equivalent of $132m for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations.
But the revelation that a cousin of current Prime Minister David Cameron was compensated is the one that will raise eyebrows the most.
James Duff, the son of one of Cameron’s great-grand-uncles was awarded the equivalent of $4,8m today as compensation for the 202 slaves he owned on a sugar plantation in Jamaica. – ish Mafundikwa
*According to the paper, Cameron declined to comment on the matter. I have never understood why the issue of compensation for Africans is never discussed. Maybe it’s about time firstname.lastname@example.org