FOR many years I’ve enjoyed listening to Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent on a Saturday morning, though of late my interest has waned as the BBC attempts to skew any story towards one of its agendas, most notably the ‘climate catastrophe’.
Saturday July 31 was one such with the visit of Zeinab Badawi to what presenter Kate Adie announced as an ‘impressive plantation mansion in Barbados with many historical debts still to be paid off’.
Badawi described the guide on her tour of the 1658 Jacobean slave owner’s mansion telling her that a local woman sometimes imagined the cries of children, only to learn later that it was the very spot where slave-masters had taken children to be raped.
Indeed, for Badawi an air of malevolence still hung around the place. Then came the sting as she told us: ‘Many Barbadian leaders and intellectuals are at the forefront of the debate about the identity and future of the Caribbean and demands for reparations for the sins of slavery.’
Never mind that ‘sins’ are normally something mankind accounts for to God. Badawi went on: ‘One Barbadian-born historian, Professor Sir Hilary Becks, is overseeing efforts to win reparations for the whole of the Caribbean which are gathering pace.’ He has, apparently, a ‘ten-point plan starting with a formal apology from former slave-owning nations such as [and I suspect primarily] the UK, from whom to date only expressions of regret have been forthcoming. An apology would trigger litigation in claims for billions of pounds in compensation’. Becoming ever more plangent, she lamented how ‘Barbadians have suffered greatly in the economic downturn caused by Covid, with a 90 per cent drop in tourism’, but how ‘substantial reparations could be a huge help in securing its future’.
I’ll bet they could.
I don’t for an instant disbelieve any of the horrors I’ve read about Caribbean slavery, but the obvious question is what in the annals of this despicable activity makes it unique? Should Italians, say, be held liable to the descendants of all the slaves they took from Europe, the Middle East and Africa? Are the Ottomans similarly liable for the million-plus slaves they took from Europe, including more than a hundred thousand from Britain? No less notorious, the Arabs and Berbers who for centuries captured sub-Saharan Africans, manacled them with wooden neck yokes and drove them north, like cattle, across the vast sweltering desert. What about the depredations visited upon South and Central America by Spanish conquistadors? And before them the Maya and the Aztecs to whom slavery was part and parcel of their civilisations? Or the tribes of the American northwest who raided the Californian coast? Do the descendants of all these multitudinous victims deserve recompense?
The first to supply slaves to Barbados were the Dutch, and it was only later that the British, having adopted Dutch sugar-growing methods, came to dominate. Even then, it wasn’t the government but companies and individuals who ran and profited from the industry. In the unlikely event that the distant descendants of these men are found liable for reparations, it is unlikely that the desired billions could be raised from whatever legacy remains. Flogging off a few pineapple-ornamented country houses isn’t going to produce an awful lot, so who can Professor Becks turn to? The general populace, perhaps, the successors of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century peasants like my forebears, people who lived hand to mouth in veritable hovels. Or toilers in lead mines, or coal mines, or in the thousands of other menial and frequently crippling occupations in which the mass of the population was engaged? Perhaps he thinks they should carry the can.
He could, of course, trace the iniquitous Atlantic trade back to its start, and a Portuguese explorer called Antam Goncalves. By coincidence, only a few days before Zeinab Badawi’s broadcast I learnt of this individual via Simon Webb’s excellent YouTube channel History Debunked. In 1441 Goncalves and his men captured a West African nobleman named Adahu who turned out to be a slave trader in service of the Arabs. On meeting Antam’s sponsor, King Henry the Navigator, Adahu delighted the Portuguese monarch by offering to provide as many slaves as he could want, and within a short while was supplying Portugal with ten thousand a year. This would also of course place Adahu’s descendants firmly in the frame, along with those of the many thousands of other tribesmen who over the following centuries made large amounts of money enthusiastically rounding up their fellow Africans. But something tells me these aren’t quite the people Professor Becks has in mind.
When this notion of reparations was first mooted a few years ago (to the best of my awareness – there may have been many previous such initiatives) it was by a conclave of African leaders, and coming from a mixed bag of neo-Marxist worthies and corrupt despots was promptly derided. Now it’s been given a more legitimate nudge by our national broadcaster. Slight indeed, but the BBC’s wilfully blinkered obsession with climate change came from equally slender beginnings, so given its current keenness to prostrate itself over racial issues I’d be surprised if this doesn’t gain more currency.
Meanwhile, I doubt From Our Own Correspondent will be including a piece from the West African country of Mauritania. Slavery was not abolished there until 1981, though with no criminal laws to enforce the ban it continues to thrive, with as many as 20 per cent of the population still held in bondage. Heck, there are currently reliably estimated to be around 130,000 sex slaves in Britain, brutally coerced by East European gangsters. Who’s going to stump up to compensate them for their blighted lives, never mind their descendants a dozen generations on?
‘We will never stop demanding justice and reparations,’ Professor Becks told Bedawi, ‘even if it takes another hundred years.’ Notwithstanding what regard his cause might garner from the BBC, the notion that the sufferings of their forebears should two hundred or more years on reward him and his friends with a blizzard of wealth, as if the tumblers in some enormous slot machine have rung up three gold bars, I find frankly delusional.