By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Aug. 7, 2020)
Activities to mark the 186th anniversary since the abolition of slavery in the English-speaking Caribbean took place at two points in Kingstown last Saturday. Dubbed “Taste of Africa”, the Sion Hill, Emancipation Day event was held with the theme: “Understanding our past and shaping our future for an empowered future generation”.
Delivering the feature address, Jomo Sanga Thomas, chairman of St Vincent and the Grenadines Reparations Movement and head of the government-organised SVG reparations Committee, told the audience that while he was honoured to do the feature address, it was important for organisers of these events to realise that “all-important activities, all important revolutionary activity and the struggle for reparations, all of the great task were led by young people”.
To bring home the message, Jomo Sanga pointed to several historic figures who made outstanding contributions to all aspects of our struggle for freedom, democratic rights and progress. “When Malcolm X was assassinated, he was only 39 years old; Martin Luther King was 39 years, and Maurice Bishop was 39 years old,” Sanga told the crowd. “Franz Fanon, who give us such outstanding works of scholarship such as Wreathed of the Earth, Dying colonialism and Black skin, White mask was only 36; Bob Marley was 36 at his death, and Fidel Castro, the great Cuban revolutionary leader, was all but 32 years old when he led the Cuban people to victory over the mighty US Imperialism.”
“The struggle for emancipation is a youth project and that’s why we need to train a new cadre of young people to take up and carry the struggle forward. The struggle for reparations is fundamentally a struggle for power. Therefore, this struggle for reparations and the advancement of our people is going to be long and hard. It will be a marathon and not a sprint. And that is why we need young people because the youths never get weary.”
Sanga Thomas pointed to the seminal role played by black people in the march for freedom. He noted that Haiti became the first black republic in the western hemisphere in 1804. This fight against the French, English and Americans was led by enslaved African men who vowed to be free. Toussaint, Dessalines, Christophe and Boukman led the Haitian fight fought and defeated the mighty Napoleonic army.
The defeat in Haiti forced Napoleon to sell over 15 million acres of lands in what is now the USA because France lost its most profitable piece of real estate in the New World. The Haitian victory in 1803 led to the abolition of the trade in enslaved African bodies in 1807, much in the same way the Sam Sharpe led rebellion in Jamaica in 1831 compelled the British to rush to parliament in 1833 to sign the emancipation proclamation, Sanga Thomas told his audience.
African people demand reparations because the reparations experiment was first tried and perfected in Haiti. In 1825, when the Haitians were celebrating their 21 anniversary of independence, British, American and French warships showed up on the Haitian coastline. The French demanded that they are paid the modern-day equivalent of $21 billion in reparations for the audacity of freeing themselves from slavery and reclaiming their land. Haiti never finished paying the ransom until 1947. ‘The sin of president Aristide,” Sanga Thomas told the crowd, ‘was his demand that France repays the reparations money it stole over 6 generations.’ For this act of audacity, the Americans and French governments kidnapped President Aristide and exiled him in the Central African Republic. That theft of Haitian wealth explains the persistent poverty we witness in that sister country today.
Sanga Thomas told his audience that there was a time when the Caribbean was the most valuable and profitable piece of real estate in the world. In the 18th century, at the height of slavery, a worker in Europe, North America and Jamaica was valued at 42, 64 and 2,200 pounds respectively.
Sanga Thomas gave that historical narrative to lay the context for the wise 2013 decision of the CARICOM to engage the English, French and Dutch in a developmental dialogue which will lead to the payment of reparations for the genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of millions of Africans. The leaders of CARICOM also committed to taking the formers enslavers to the International Court of Justice if the refrain or refuse to commit to negotiating a settlement based on reparatory justice.
Sanga Thomas reminded his audience that at emancipation in 1834, the British government paid the former enslavers 20 million pounds which carries a modern value of about $300 billion. He noted that when people say that slavery ended a long time ago, they must be reminded of the fact, that this 20-million-pound loan, borrowed almost 200 years ago was only finally repaid in total in 2015. The 20 million pounds in 1833 amount to 40 percent of the British budget.
Sanga Thomas concluded by expressing confidence that with the international rise in consciousness around the white supremacy, Euro-centrism and anti-Black racism, best reflected in the Black Lives Matter movement that the 21st century will be the century when African people will win the fight for reparatory justice.
Brother, I Man I Hypolite of the Rastafarian Order of Nyabinghi, also brought greetings to the gathering. He cautioned the people to be on guard against the seductively attractive impulses of organized religion and politics. I Man I emphasised the need for African people to get back to African spirituality and love.
The event at Sion Hill was dedicated to the youths. Books donated by many persons including Vincentians abroad were distributed to the first 50 young people to assembly. There was poetry, singing, fashion, food, drinks, music and the pulsating sounds of African drumming. The people came and the spirit of the African Holy Ghost filled the air. The event was fulfilling, uplifting, satisfying and successful.
The Emancipation celebrations at Bottom Town were organized and led by veteran black nationalist Patches Knights. At Sion Hill, sister Ideisha Jackson of the Lazarus Foundation and the Sion Hill Christmas Lighting Committee were the principal organizers. The event won the support of several individuals and organizations including the SVG Reparations Movement and the Ministry of Culture.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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