Slavery: Europeans Apologize

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"We repent for taking rather than giving. Taking the riches and the lands of Africa. We repent for dehumanising Africans, treating them as goods, calling them Black ivory..." the Europeans said, then wept for forgiveness

(The Europeans knelt before Chissano, asking for forgiveness).

A European delegation of Christian leaders formally apologized to Africa for crimes committed during the slave trade and the colonial era while visiting Zimbabwe.

It is a rare occasion on Zimbabwean soil to have a group of Europeans attempting to walk the journey of friendship-- preaching reconciliation and healing between Africans and whites. Chris Seaton, the chairperson of the European African Reconciliation Process and his colleagues begged forgiveness before hundreds of delegates who included former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, Science and Technology Development Minister Dr. Olivia Muchena and the president of the Council of Chiefs in Zimbabwe, Chief Fortune Charumbira.

Twenty-four other representatives from other African countries were present at this event which was held at a hotel here in Harare. The European Christian leaders were drawn from countries that include Britain, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands and the United States. Seaton confessed on behalf of Britain and asked for pardon for the sins committed against Zimbabwe during the colonial era.

In Zimbabwe, Seaton said, Britons cheated King Lobengula into signing the so-called Rudd Concession in 1888 which saw white settlers occupying vast swathes of prime land while the majority of Blacks were forced to live on poor, marginal soil. "We repent for taking rather than giving. Taking the riches and the lands of Africa. We repent for dehumanizing Africans, treating them as goods, calling them Black ivory. We repent for robbing Africans of their history and identity. Today we ask for forgiveness in Jesus' name before you and God," he said.

In his response, former President Chissano said it was a pity that most Europeans were still defensive when confronted about the damaging effects of colonialism. They invariably maintain that colonialism had gone and the reasons for African backwardness lay in "bad governance and corruption." Critics in Africa contend that underdevelopment and poverty are direct legacies of imperialism.

The European delegation provided a rare spectacle. They knelt before Chissano while asking for forgiveness for the sins committed against Africa. Some wept.

Father Frederick Chiromba, the executive secretary of the Heads of Christian Denominations hailed the European delegation for their apologies and said “It is a good beginning for the creation of a better understanding among people of different races and nations." It was encouraging that this was coming at a time when churches in the country were also looking at ways of ending the country's problems, he added.

"If the move is meant to build bridges, I see no problems with it," concurred Rev. Simon Madhiba of the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe. "It is important to understand the motive and goals of the initiative as well as the target group. This is important before Africans acknowledge and accept the apologies."

Africans can forgive but not forget. Africans are the only race that has not received reparations. The Jews have received reparations. The Korean comfort women and a few other cases have received reparations. According to historian Basil Davidson, more than 12 million people were taken as slaves, two million died in transit and seven million were killed before embarkation bringing the total to 21 million from 1650 to 1850. He says this was a devastating loss and that there was evidence that depopulation had a lasting impact.

African countries were exploited economically and abused; something which scholars such as Walter Rodney and many other historians say is major contributing factor to Africa's underdevelopment. Slave trade and colonialism jeopardized Africa's own pace of development as shown in the field of medicine, mathematics, complex social organization and engineering which some western researchers are now poaching for their own use and patenting without benefiting Africans.

Since 2001, when Britain blocked the European Union from issuing a straightforward apology for the transatlantic trade in slavery and instead pushed for a “more modest expression of regret” there has been moves by European Christian leaders to make formal apologies. But Africans should know that the US and Britain even up to now are still resisting demands for a frank admission of guilty. The two powerful countries are not yet prepared to offer an outright apology for slavery.

The apology by the European delegation visiting Zimbabwe follow similar apologies by the late Pope John Paul II for the “historic transgression of the Roman Church, its anti-Semitism and the Inquisition,” and more recently the Church of England.

In February this year, the Church of England apologized for the role it played in the 18th century inn benefiting from the transatlantic slave trade. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued an apology for the church's complicity in “sustaining and profiting hugely” from the trade. But Africans must remember that no endorsements for financial and other reparations were made.

When the British parliament voted for compensation in 1833 - to former slave owners rather than the slaves themselves - the church received about £500,000 in today's money, for the loss of slave labor on its Codrington plantation in Barbados.
The reparations movement is growing globally.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’ Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare, Zimbabwe. Send your comments to

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