A perfect storm gathers as Jamaica demands billions of pounds in reparations for the slave trade
Slave in Chains or the Captive Slave attributed to the artist John Simpson 1825-1830
By Trevor Grundy
At a time when athletes take the knee, and when anyone with a sniff of a racist past is likely to find himself/ herself jobless, a storm is gathering in Jamaica that could cost the British taxpayer billions of pounds.
Jamaica plans to ask Britain for billions of pounds in compensation for the way its ancestors suffered in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when Britain was a key player in the slave trade.
The first batch of Jamaican immigrants into the ‘Mother Country’ in 1948
Jamaica was a centre of the slave trade when it was first run by Catholic Spain and then by Protestant Britain until the island’s independence in 1962.
Olivia Grange, Minster of Sports, Youth, Culture said in an interview – ”We are hoping for reparatory justice in all forms that one would expect if they are to really ensure that we get justice from injustice to repair the damage that our ancestors experienced.”
Commonwealth sources say that the question of British financial compensation to Jamaica and other countries would have been raised in Rwanda at the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). That meeting, and a rescheduled CHOGM in 2021, was not held because of the Covid pandemic.
Bu the issue of compensation has been delayed and not abandoned. “Redress is well overdue,” said Grange.
Kneeling slave in chains (Wilberforce House, Hull, England)
Jamaica, with a population of three million people, is an important part of the multi-racial/multi-cultural Commonwealth whose head is Queen Elizabeth 11.
An estimated 600,000 Africans were shipped to toil in Jamaica, according to the National Library of Jamaica.
More than 15 million people were shackled and shipped to plantations in the New World, according to the United Nations.
The repatriations petition, with approval from Jamaica’s National Council on Reparations, will go first to the attorney general and then to the Queen in London.
The petition is based on a private motion by the Jamaican lawmaker, Mike Henry, who said it was worth £7.6 billion, a sum he estimated s roughly equivalent in today’s terms to what Britain paid to the slaveowners after the official abolition of slavery in 1807.
He added – “I am doing this because I have fought against this all my life, against chattel slavery which has de-humanised human life.”
News about the Jamaican demands come as students at Oxford University say that the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College would work wonders and improve race relations.
But Jamaican politicians and legislators say that the exploitation of millions of non-white people cannot be laid at the door of a single man.
Millions of Britons right now live in towns and cities that owe part of their prosperity to the slave trade. Places like London, Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow saw boom days on the back of slavery.
At its height in the 18th century hundreds of thousands of ordinary people -including academics, politicians, Christian church leaders teachers and business people had shares in the slave trade.
The vast majority went to church on Sundays.
The petition also comes at a time when more and more people in Jamaica are demanding a formal break with Britain.
Last December opposition lawmaker Michael Phillips presented a motion to remove the British monarch as Jamaica’s Head of State.
So far, the Foreign Office in London has ducked questions about Britain’s response to demands for billions of pounds from just one of its former colonies. Will there be others? Who knows.
Britain prohibited the slave trade in 1807, partly thanks to the activities of men like the Christian Evangelist, William Wilberforce. But of course the existence of slavery didn’t end there. In different forms it went on, And still does not only in Asia and Europe but also in Britain.
William Wilberforce – Christian evangelist and wealthy, well-connected campaigner against slavery
This time round its victims are called Wage Slaves.
The British Government in 1835 aside the then astronomical sum of £20 million to deal with their problem.
But the money didn’t go to the victims of slavery. It went to the slave owners.
And Britain only ended paying off the ensuing interest payments in 2015.
At a time when academics, politicians, religious leaders and various anti-racist lobby groups are calling on the British government to de-colonise the history curriculum, the fact that Britain paid £20 million to slave owners and not to the slaves is little known
William Gladstone, the 19th century’s liberal leader in Britain
In his book Glimpses of a Global Life, the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Shridath Ramphal, praised the UK’s Independent on Sunday newspaper (February 24, 2013) for publishing this little known fact in British schools and colleges
Ramphal said that one of the beneficiaries of the £20 million pay-out was John Gladstone, father of the Liberal Party’s William Gladstone.
He received the equivalent of £83 million (in today’s money).
William Gladstone served four terms as British prime minister in the late 19th century. He spoke in parliament against abolition in the early part of his career, supporting his father’s vast interest in British Guiana.
The grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who came to Britain in the 1950s
want answers about who made money out of the slave trade and not just cost-free apologies from politicians
( Above: Three Boys by Marianne Podlashuc).
Meantime, we wait to hear where and when the next CHOGM will be held.
How the British public will react when it learns it has to pay billions of pounds because of a trade that took place so long ago and which they know so little about, remains to be seen.
On August 1, 2021 the BBC’s Hard Talk television programme carried an interview with the distinguished Barbados historian, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.
In it, he said that the British people do not known anything of significance about what they did to other people in other parts of the world to secure their own enrichment.
He said when he was growing up he learned nothing about British colonialism.
Yet, all around the island there are still are relics of the legacy of the slave trade, “the under-development, the racism, white supremacy and all the structures that made the (slave trade) system work.”