Protest overshadows Gladstones’ apology for slavery as educational centre opens

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By Kurt Campbell

Kurt@newsroom.gy

A scripted apology by Charles Gladstone for his family’s profitable commanding of slave-run-sugar plantations in Guyana during the 18th century was met with protest on Friday even as the visiting Gladstones cried shame and offered regret for the leading role their patriarch, John Gladstone, played in the slave trade.

Charles, the great-great-great-grandson of John, is in Georgetown for the weekend and during a ceremony to open a new Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies, funded by his family, he noted their desire to help those affected to find healing.

He was at the time standing on former plantation lands which now forms the foundation for the University of Guyana.

“We the undersigned, descendants of John Gladstone…wish to offer our sincere apologies for his actions holding your ancestors in slavery in Demerara, Guyana,” Charles read from a prepared apology.

Four of the six members of the Gladstone family who travelled to Guyana (Photo: News Room/ August 25, 2023)

The apology coincides with the month of national observances for the 1823 Demerara Slave Revolt that erupted on the Gladstone plantation at Success, East Coast Demerara.

It comes almost 200 years after enslaved Africans were given their freedom – emancipated – and amid mixed reactions with some Guyanese insisting that the apology was not enough.

The apology also extends to the period of indenture, another profitable period for thousands of British families. Tears flowed from the eyes of persons within the audience, others held placards in silence as one person periodically shouted, “not accepted.”

The moment of the apology lasted for less than five minutes but it changed the room’s atmosphere characterized by a spirit of oneness, humility and personal introspection.

Others, in accepting the apology, argue that it is the first step towards compensation and reparatory justice.

But despite the moment of uncertainty about what comes next, the apology was read to the end and a signed copy was handed over to the Chair of the Guyana Reparations Committee, Eric Phillips.

“With heartfelt sincerity, we apologise to the descendants of those enslaved in Guyana. In so doing, we acknowledge slavery’s continued impact on the daily lives of many.

“We understand that we cannot change history but we believe it can have an impact on the world in which we live and in apologising for the actions of our ancestors, we hope to work towards a better future,” Charles said.

He supports the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) 10-point plan for reparative justice, the first point being a full and formal apology.

In so doing, Charles has encouraged the British Government to enter into meaningful discussions with CARICOM and urge other descendants of those who benefited from slavery to open discussions on their ancestors’ crime.

A fund will be created by the Gladstone family to support further initiatives in Guyana.

On Thursday, while the Gladstones were in-flight to Guyana, President Dr. Irfaan Ali, in a national address, said the apology was not enough and restated his call for compensation, reparative justice, and for those involved to be posthumously charged for the crimes against humanity.

Hours after, the Gladstones landed at the country’s main airport at Timehri and were greeted by a silent protest involving predominantly Afro-Guyanese. The protest continued on Friday.

Some Afro-Guyanese in silent protest during the ceremony (Photo: News Room/ August 25, 2023)

While most persons in attendance, particularly those from the Reparations Committee, accepted the apology, some felt it did little to give impetus to the process of healing and understanding.

“We do accept the apology but we do not accept the agreement, the amount, we will not accept the amount.

“They need to go back to the drawing board and come again, it is very embarrassing,” an Afro-Guyanese woman said in rejection.

An assessment of financial reparations shows that the Dutch owe Guyana $40 billion while the British owe Guyana $1.2 trillion for their role and benefits derived from the slave trade.

Vice Chancellor of UG, Dr. Paloma Mohamed said no financial negotiations regarding reparations were discussed or agreed upon with the Gladstone heirs.

“Yes, it (the apology) is one that I can accept,” Ester Gittens, Secretary of the Reparations Committee told the News Room.

Citizens and members of the Guyana Reparations Committee during the ceremony (Photo: News Room/ August 25, 2023)

And for those who do not accept the apology, Gittens said, “Well, they need to be educated. They got to get involved because if they were part of the movement they would understand that a formal apology is step one and there is more to follow.”

And so, many Afro-Guyanese look forward to what is to follow.

One such person is Nicole Cole, a professional Clinical Social Work Practitioner and Constitutional Commissioner.

“The apology is one aspect…I cannot say that I accept the apology wholeheartedly.

“…I still feel as though the apology doesn’t go far enough to repair what has been done,” Cole said.

On Saturday, the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) will host a special spiritual ceremony where they will ask African ancestors to accept the apology and provide forgiveness.

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