More than an apology: Pres. Ali wants Gladstone family to address compensation, reparative justice
President Dr. Irfaan Ali on Thursday welcomed the descendants of John Gladstone to Guyana and their intention to offer an apology for the slave trade he led for several years on plantations in Guyana’s Demerara County.
But, the Head of State does not believe an apology is enough. He has restated his call for compensation, reparative justice, and for those involved to be posthumously charged for the crimes against humanity.
“The apology is implicitly an acknowledgement of the cruel nature of African enslavement and indentureship in Guyana and an act of contrition that paves the way for justice,” Dr. Ali said in an address to the nation broadcast live from his Georgetown office.
He said while the apology, to be delivered Friday morning during an engagement at the University of Guyana, underscores a willingness to confront the family’s dark past, it is not enough.
Dr. Ali recalled his Emancipation Day message where he called on those who were complicit in and who profited from the trade in captive Africans and African enslavement to offer just reparations.
The Gladstone family has admitted that it benefited from African enslavement and indentureship on the Demerara and other plantations owned by its patriarch, John Gladstone.
“I, therefore, propose that the intended apology include issues of compensation, reparative justice, and those involved to be posthumously charged for crimes against humanity,” Dr. Ali said.
Former British Prime Minister, William Gladstone is the son of John Gladstone who was an absentee owner of plantations in Jamaica and Guyana. His family now wants to help fund a new research centre at the University of Guyana (UG) in addition to the apology.
As Dr. Ali recounted, John Gladstone’s interests and acquisitions included plantations at Belmonte, Covenden, Hampton Court, Industry, Meten-Meer-Zorg, Success, Vreed-en-Hoop, Vreedenstein and Wales.
John Gladstone was Chairman of the Liverpool West India Association, one of the most important groups defending the interests of West Indian plantation owners. Throughout his life, he was a champion of the institution of slavery.
Even after the 1823 Demerara Slave Revolt erupted on his plantation at Success, it did not deter him from expanding his investments in Guiana.
His official policy was one of amelioration – that slaves’ conditions should be gradually improved and Christianisation prioritised, a position that was in staunch opposition to the abolitionists.
At the time of abolition, he received compensation, which at today’s value is estimated at more than £10M. The freed Africans received nothing.
Anticipating a collapse in African field labour after the end of the Apprenticeship period, Gladstone along with other planters, also helped to pioneer the use of Indian indentured labour in British Guiana, introducing a new form of servitude to the colony.
In recent years, the demands for reparations for African enslavement and indentureship have intensified.
And as Dr. Ali posited, the call for reparations is not intended to promote or leverage shame or guilt over the slave trade and slavery.
“It is not extortion. Instead, the demand for reparations is a commitment to righting historical wrongs. The transatlantic slave trade and African enslavement were an affront to humanity itself. The Durban Declaration of 2001 of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance acknowledged that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so,” he said.
And there are other important reasons why the Caribbean is demanding reparations.
Sociologists have argued that the high levels of interpersonal, institutional and societal violence that are being experienced in the Caribbean are a legacy of colonialism.
The call for reparations is an essential response to right a historical wrong and mitigate the enduring legacy of slavery. Reparations are aimed at ensuring a reckoning for the greatest crime against humanity and addressing the multifaceted inheritance of slavery.