DURBAN, South Africa - Africa was headed for a
showdown Wednesday with its former masters over demands that
states that profited from the slave trade and colonialism
apologize and pay reparations for the damage done.
The European Union and Africa remain far apart in their
talks on the issue at a U.N.-sponsored conference on racism,
with the Europeans offering increased cash for aid but
rejecting the notion of reparations.
African delegates maintain that the affluence enjoyed by
many in the developed world today was built on the backs of
slave labor and the raw materials extracted from the world's
Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses journalists at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa September 5, 2001. Tutu made a call for reparations for slavery saying that they would be like a balm to the wounds of Africa's past. (Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)
``The slave trade destroyed Africa's human resources ... and
the lack of those human resources weakened the continent,'' said
one central African delegate who declined to be named.
``In the 16th century there was not such a great difference
between Europe and Africa...today there is because of the
legacies of colonialism and slavery which helped to build the
West's economies. This generation in the West has benefited
from those crimes and should pay for them,'' he said.
Millions of Africans were uprooted from their homes and
shipped chained in appalling conditions across the Atlantic to
plantations in the New World. Countless perished en route.
Colonialism also took a huge toll on the continent, with
millions of enforced laborers dying in the Belgian Congo where
authorities terrorized locals into collecting rubber by cutting
off hands and committing other atrocities.
Africa today remains the world's poorest continent,
burdened by poverty, disease and brutal conflicts.
AFRICANS SAY UNITED ON REPARATIONS
``The African group holds a common position (on reparations
and apologies),'' said South Africa's Public Service and
Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, who is
leading Pretoria's delegation on talks with other African
nations on the issue.
She denied reports that there had been a ``hardening'' of
Africa's stance on the issue, but delegates who have seen the
documents under discussion have disputed this.
``The latest document from the Africans is less flexible,''
said Marcos Pinta Gama, a spokesman for the Brazilian delegation, which is trying to broker a compromise.
Genocide against indigenous peoples and apartheid are also
under discussion, with the Africans pushing to have them and
slavery branded as crimes against humanity.
The Ecumenical Caucus, an umbrella group of churches,
backed the African demands, asking ``for our churches and
governments to acknowledge that they have benefited from the
exploitation of Africans and African descendants.''
REPARATIONS ALSO MAJOR ISSUE IN U.S.
Across the Atlantic, the issue of reparations is also
becoming a major issue with the descendants of the slaves taken
from Africa demanding compensation for an injustice which many
commentators say is still inflicting harm on blacks in America.
``It is the issue of repair for damage done,'' United States
civil rights leader Jesse Jackson told Reuters on the sidelines
of the conference.
``We (African-Americans) have fewer services and less
education. We are disproportionately jailed and killed by the
state. We have shorter life spans. We have less access to
capital,'' Jackson said.
He added that all of these social and economic problems
faced by the African-American community were rooted in the
centuries of slavery that ended with the North's victory over
the South in the Civil War in 1865.
Asked if he would make reparations for slavery a political
priority when he returns to the United States, Jackson said:
''Yes, of course...we must make crooked ways straight.''
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited