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Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” March 31, 2023)

The struggle for reparations has turned a difficult and almost impossible corner. All patriots, nationalists and progressives need to redouble our efforts to ensure this crucial leg in the fight for the humanisation of the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans. When CARICOM’s renewed push for reparations stumbled out of the starting blocks in 2013, there were many naysayers.

Only a few of us thought that this was a winning card. Many felt reparations didn’t have a chance. Some pessimistically said we wouldn’t see it in our lifetime, as if to say the thought of collecting our parents’ backpay should be permanently shelved. Enough of us said, ‘Never forget, never again.

And what a difference the last few months have made.

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Last Tuesday, the UK Guardian trust announced it would denote US$12.3 million in restorative justice support for ‘descendant communities in Jamaica. The Guardian, with whom the trust is associated, apologised after disclosure of academic research tied the newspaper’s founding financial backers to slavery. Sir George Phillips, one of the 11 Guardian investors in Manchester’s cotton and textile industry tied to slavery, co-owned a sugar plantation in Hanover, Jamaica.

 The Guardian, in its apology, expressed regret that “the media company’s editorial positions, in its early decades, often supported the cotton industry and, therefore, the exploitation of enslaved Africans.”

This decision by the Guardian closely follows a decision by the Trevelyan family to publicly apologise for its forebears’ enslavement of more than 1,000 Africans in Grenada.  On Feb. 27, 2023, Laura Trevelyan and four other family members journeyed to Grenada and publicly apologised for their ancestors’ complicity with slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries. They pledged over 100,000 pounds in reparatory justice payments to Grenada. After the public apology by the Trevelyan, Grenada Prime Minister, Dickon Mitchell called on British PM Rishi Sunak to open talks with CARICOM about reparatory justice.

Prime Minister Mitchell’s call to his British counterpart is of crucial importance. Ten years ago, in July 2013, at the CARICOM heads of government meeting in Port of Spain, regional leaders took up the reparations mantra and called on the former enslaving powers to pay for their centuries-long domination and exploitation of the Caribbean. Letters were written to all of the enslaving powers with emphasis on the English, French, Dutch and Spanish. The letter called on the colonial authorities to enter into a developmental conversation with regional leaders. According to Dr. Hilary Beckles, colonial powers were asked to return to ‘the crime scene’ and see first-hand ‘the developmental mess’ they left after extracting enormous wealth from the region for hundreds of years.

The Heads of government set up the Caribbean Reparations Commission with Dr. Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies as chairman. Dr Verene Shepperd, the vice chair, leads the Caribbean Research Centre, which has done vital research on all aspects of slavery in the Caribbean.

In December 2022, the Dutch government apologised for slavery and was pushed to set up a reparations fund.  PM Mark Rutte said, “We are doing this — and doing it now — so we can find a way forward together. We not only share a past; we share a future too. So with this apology, we are writing, not a full stop but a comma. The Dutch government committed to establishing a $200 million fund to “raise awareness, foster engagement and address present-day effects of slavery”.

In January 2023, the Church of England apologised for its historical links to slavery and pledged more than 100 million pounds toward the reparatory justice project. The church commissioners said the money was to ensure ‘a fairer and better future for all.’

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the highest ranking cleric in the Church of England and head of the worldwide Anglican communion, said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the church’s links to slavery. “It is now time to address our shameful past,” he added.

The reparations train is picking up speed. In fact, it is in full flight. In the United States of America, major American universities such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Brown have all acknowledged their connection to slavery. Some cities and California have planned to compensate the descendants of enslaved Africans.

The City of San Francisco tabled more than 100 recommendations that included payments of $5 million to every eligible black adult, the elimination of personal debt and tax burden, guaranteed annual income of at least $97,000 for 250 years and homes in the city for just $1 a family.

The California task force recommended that black Californians file for monetary reparations while others prove their eligibility for compensation through genealogical data. Other recommendations include free tuition for black students in private K-12 schools and universities and housing grants. 

For the first time in more than 40 years, the US House of Representatives and Senate have committees discussing reparations.

 Last month African royalty visited Jamaica and held talks with the Caribbean reparations Commission. The meeting explored how some African kingdoms collaborated with the colonial authorities to capture and sell fellow Africans into slavery.

Now more than we have to press home the growing advantage in the reparations cause. We cannot sit back and think that the moral battle for reparations is won. It is not. Most white people give lip service to equality and justice. However, they are not prepared to give up some of their privileges to ensure that historically vulnerable and marginalised people get a fair and equitable share of available resources.

 A good place for us to start is to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. As we build our consciousness, the demand must go out for the realisation of the Caribbean Reparations Commission’s 10-point plan. Now more than ever we need an apology, a repatriation plan, an indigenous peoples’ development program, cultural institutions and assistance to conquer the severe public health crisis that engulfs the Caribbean, an illiteracy eradication program and an African knowledge program, Psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and debt cancellation.

Ten years ago, thoughts of fulfilling the 10-point plan for reparatory justice were a distant dream. Today we are closer than ever to winning new battles in the struggle for reparations.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

2 replies on “Reparation in our lifetime”

  1. Agustas Carr says:

    Reparations must first start with our local Government empowering its people through crown land ownership. Thousands of Acres of Crown Land were left behind by Britain, however these lands either lay unused, sold or lease to expatriates business men for next to nothing. A small amount was also handed out to locals.

    Our Government first order is to give this land to its citizens in particular descendants of slaves or native Carib and Kalinago people. All the crown land above the Rabacca Dry River in SVG should be given back to the Caribs to be turned into a Reservation. Secondly, some of the crown lands throughout the country should be kept as national park and forestry reserve to maintain the ecological balance. The remaining lands should be given to Vincentians of African descent as the first step towards reparation. We must however start with the poorest and most disadvantage of our people.

    Crown land ownership can alleviate poverty within the Caribbean. land lay unused in the Caribbean while so many suffer with poverty and unemployment. Why not empower citizens through land ownership so they can get a start, which can be achieved easily through agriculture?

  2. Nathan J Green says:

    There are a number of problems with reparations.

    1/ The British paid the world to end slavery, they paid almost every government and made them sign non slavery treaties with them. It is all recorded and written history records prove that without a doubt. Therefore, if they could be made to pay, they have already paid.

    2/ The Roman Catholic Church started slavery they caused the death of millions in the Caribbean and the Americas. It started long before but was compounded when the man’s [World Boss] direct relative Antonio Gonsalves a Portugee bought ten slaves from a black trader on a west African beach, and Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator gave them to the pope as a present. The rest is pure recorded history. Read the upcoming book by William H Harriss ‘Beyond Satanic II’. I have seen copies from his publisher. The Catholic Church were the root cause of the Atlantic slave trade and Caribbean slavery for 1700 years.

    3/ Among the largest slave owners was the Catholic Order of the Jesuits, they bought, sold, bred, and worked slaves all over America and the Americas.

    3/ There in no enforceable international law that is valid anywhere regarding reparations due to the expiry of statutes of limitations.

    4/ At the time of said slavery offences slavery was legal and to buy, sell, own, and work slaves were legal actions.

    These are not something I made up, they are well known historical facts, written in the annuls of history.

    It is well known that Jomo is a dunce when it comes to this subject. So, he keeps writing rubbish and hope you will believe all that garbage.

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