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Monday 22 April 2019
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Letters to the Editor

Remembering victims of slavery

THE EDITOR: Tomorrow the world will commemorate the UN International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade which commenced in the 15th century.

The UN states: "For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the tragic transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history." The day "offers the opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system." It also "aims to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today."

The UN secretary-general reminds us that "the abominable buying and selling of human beings was the largest forced movement of people in history. It was inhumane. It was shameful. And yet it was legally sanctioned – conducted and condoned by leaders and countries in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere...Although the transatlantic slave trade was abolished in the 1800s, it continues to affect social, cultural and political interaction among people and countries."

The recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a white supremacist/nationalist is another example of how the hydra-headed monster of racism continues to disfigure our world. He cold-bloodedly shot and killed 50 people and wounded dozens in mass shootings at two mosques.

His social media activity showed that shortly before his cowardly attacks, he had sent to the media etc and posted online a 74-page "manifesto" denouncing immigrants as "invaders." He described the US President as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose."

The CCSJ calls on all world leaders to denounce such racist ideology and to name his deed as an act of "terrorism." Let's call it by its name. Our common purpose should be to build the common good so that all can flourish in a world that was given to all by God.

Too often African history focuses on slavery. We cannot talk about the enslavement of Africans without acknowledging the fact that before the 15th century, some of the world's great civilisations flourished in Africa. Africans continue to share their talent the world over, including me, as a dougla.

I pray for the sins of my own church. Historians have recorded the role that the Catholic Church played in the transatlantic slave trade. Most of the slave traders and slave ship captains were Christians. As the writer Stacy Brown wrote:

"Some historians argue that if churches had used their power, the Atlantic slave trade might have never occurred...others argue that the Catholic Church and Catholic missionaries could have also helped to prevent the colonisation and brutality of colonialism in Africa...the Catholic Church did not oppose the institution of slavery until the practice had already become infamous in most parts of the world...

“'Persons who considered themselves to be Christian played a major role in upholding and justifying the enslavement of Africans,' said Dr Jonathan Chism, an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston-Downtown. 'The universal church taught that slavery enjoyed the sanction of scripture and natural law.'"

Brown rightly noted that "African Americans made Christianity their own, and black Christians such as Nat Turner employed Christian thought and biblical texts to resist the slave system...Black and white abolitionist Christians played a major role in overturning the system of slavery.”

Various popes, including Francis, have apologised for the church's role in slavery and colonialism.

Let's not forget the many enslaved Africans and their descendants who rose up against their enslavement, eg the Maroons in Jamaica and the 18th-century Haitian Revolution, led by Toussaint Louverture. Haiti, today we are sorry. Read Isabel Macdonald's article in the UK Guardian entitled: France's debt of dishonour to Haiti. In 1825, Haiti paid France US$21 billion (in today's dollars) to preserve its independence. More and more people are calling for reparation.

Let's work and pray for an end to all forms of slavery.

LEELA RAMDEEN

chair, CCSJ

director, CREDI

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