Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners aired recently on BBC 2 at 9 o’clock. Prime. Time. Writer and presenter, historian David Olusoga skillfully toed the line between impassive and curious historian and thoroughly immersed and cognizant Anglo-African.
This ground-breaking documentary shone a light on the British slave owners who made significant financial success from the free labour of enslaved Africans. When the abolition of slavery act was passed in 1833, these same successful business men and women were then reimbursed in a multi-billion pay-out scheme by the government of that time… for their loss of ‘property’, and subsequently loss of business.
According to BBC analysis figures, Olusoga’s two programmes were watched by a mere 29,000 people and despite the excitement on social media and written articles in The Guardian, The Mirror and even the New statesmen, the findings raised in the film have passed by with barely a murmur.
On August 1, 2015 the streets of central London will be filled with the sound of djembe drum, chanting and vitriol as hundreds of African people march once again to Downing St from Brixton South London to continue the demand for reparations.
I asked noted writers; poets, activists and media professionals to provide a brief summation/critique of the BBC documentary ahead of the reparations march and here are some of their responses. (Some have been edited slightly for brevity) …
“The facts revealed from the documentary as to who was compensated and how much…and seeing how that benefits them today is sufficient evidence to show how compensation would have shown a different life for those who actually needed it” Nat Nye – Galaxy Radio, Poetic Temple
“Whilst ‘Britain’s Forgotten Slave-owners’ did raise further awareness of the injustice of the Slave Compensation Commission compensating the enslavers and not doing anything to compensate or otherwise redress the harmful and debilitating legacies of enslavement for the enslaved Afrikans, it tells an incomplete history. The programmed selectively highlights the role of some, but not other key institutions and individuals such as PM David Cameron, his wife Samantha Cameron and members of the British Royal Family. Most notably, the programmed is silent on the historiography of the reparations contingents of the then Afrikan abolitionist movement and therefore leaves huge gaps in understanding not only the continuum of the Maangamizi today, but also resistance to the Maangamizi by way of the resurgent International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations (ISMAR)”. Esther Stanford-Xosei – reparationist, Co-Vice Chair, PARCOE, the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe
“I was pleased that the excellent research of the UCL Legacies of British Slave-ownership team had finally found the vehicle enabling this crucial information to reach a national audience. By following the money, millions in the UK would have been able to learn of the inherited wealth, criminals gained as an ongoing legacy of Maafa (African enslavement).
“This will not only raise interest in the topic of reparations but also highlight how a lack of understanding on the topic can see the definition abused when its true nature is to offer a means of repairing injustice and not just financial compensation. It is my hope the annual reparations march taking place in London and other global regions will increase awareness of these facts, and ignite passions leading to righteous action.” Toyin Agbetu – The Ligali Organization
“Though much of what Olusoga presented is familiar to those who have been following the reparations debate what he was most successful at doing is bringing the argument up-to-date – showing how British society benefited economically from the exploitation of enslaved Africans over a sustained period. Olusoga makes the case for reparations without arguing for it. He simply shows, through excellent access to the archives who was compensated at the time and for what. It is without question that the documentary, shored up by UCL’s Legacies of British Slave Ownership Database, has brought the reparations debate right into the 21st century.” Nadia Denton – Film Industry Specialist / Author
“It was a very important documentary and informative. I felt ashamed when it dawned on me how little those who had been enslaved ever received. It is very horrific to find out that the ‘slave owners’ actually received compensation when slavery was abolished even though our people carry on working as slaves to fund their scheme. In terms of Reparation. I do agree that Reparations should take place because the effects of slavery still exist until today. Trying to ignoring it is not helping the matter at all because until today black people are still facing the same system but in a different style or approach; by this I mean yesterday it was sugar cane, plantation with slave owners; Now the slave owners of today are multi-nationals and sugar cane is coltan for example (mobiles, tablets, laptops etc.). These multi-nationals are raging war in Congo and other parts of Africa, just to get the mineral resources. They are doing the exact same thing the slave owners did. So, reparation is a very important step because seeking to redress the injustices that enslaved Africans and their descendants went through can be a new beginning and also process of healing.” Francine Mukwaya – Friends of the Congo U.K.
The Reparations march, whether it is in the tens, hundreds or the thousands is not a beginning nor is it a means to a clearly defined end. But I thank Olusoga and UCL for providing more evidence as to the human wrongs waged upon the African body and for highlighting the families and corporations, which continue to benefit from the blood sweat, and tears of those not gifted with the liberty of free movement.
I also thank those who contributed to this piece and to those who also continue to contribute towards the fight for Reparations. We hail and honour you!
Stop for the Maangamizi we charge genocide/ecocide!
Emancipation Day march Mosiah 1st (August 1st) took place at Windrush Square Brixton Sw9 from 11am.
Take a look through the UCL Database