A group of theologians, church leaders and activists gathered in Elmina, Ghana, (7 – 12 Jan 2018) to engage in the second hearing within the CWM Legacies of Slavery process. They gathered to begin to reflect on the historic and contemporary legacies of slavery in the African context. Central to the experience was the visit made to the Elmina Slave Castle and perspectives were also shared from Tribal chiefs, inter-faith partners, African scholars and a community of African-American returnees, who had left the US to make their homes in Ghana. The hearing met in a spirit of lament and pain, which accompanied us throughout.
There are three dimensions to the legacies made clear from African perspectives. Firstly, slavery depopulated the African continent, stealing its young and productive members for over 350 years. This had profound implications for the political history and economic development of its people. Secondly, this system of slavery consolidated the ‘dominant-dominated’ relations between Europeans and non-Europeans, making racism the primary justification for colonial exploitation. This racism continues to the present in different guises, in Africa and beyond. Thirdly, Europeans and their descendants reaped more than economic benefits from slavery. Fed better, their population increased. With new wealth and industry, they developed better technology with which to further conquer and exploit others. The Atlantic Slave Trade therefore intensified the mix of different motives—greed for material possession and consumption, combined with racism and self-aggrandizement—that began with the Crusades and continues to mark out global Capitalism.
All of which points to Empire’s simultaneous occupation of Land and Being in Africa. The occupation of Being is something mission and missionaries particularly enabled, as the humanity of black people was theologically denied by them. The Hearing confronted again the sins of a colonial past which mission to which mission must always address and the sinfulness of White power particularly. This remains an overarching issue for the hearings and will only intensify as they progress.
The Elmina hearing was profoundly painful as multiple histories were revealed and insufficiently addressed. The Africa region looks to develop its own process ecumenically, wanting to address the several slave trades: Trans-Atlantic, Trans-Indian Ocean and Trans-Sahara slave trades and the multiple legacies revealed there. They seek also to address the legacies of an occupied land in terms of persisting economic injustice and political instability across the continent. The occupation of being also remains pressing even in the ‘post-Colonial’ era. The overt structures of White Supremacism, like European Colonialism and Apartheid, may have been dismantled. But they have been built into institutions, policies and power interests through which black bodies, identities, peoples and communities continue to bear the weight of economic, political, social, military inequality and injustice. The politics behind Trump are blatantly white supremacist. But there is a further complexity as the continent experiences black exploitation of black lives, as in Zuma’s South Africa for example. CWM is challenged again to realise and press further its vision of Mission in the context of Empire as Christians wonder what changes need to come to address the legacies of slavery and finally bring the release from bondage to sin which the missionaries said Jesus promises.
The Legacies of Slavery process will move on to Jamaica in 18 – 22 Feb to address perspectives from the Caribbean.