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Rastas seek audience with royals on payback for slavery; Anglican priest demands apology for black holocaust

Published:Monday | March 21, 2022 | 12:08 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will arrive in Jamaica on Tuesday and depart on Thursday.


Unlike villagers in Belize who caused the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to cancel a scheduled stop, the Rastafarian community in western Jamaica has pledged that it will not stage protests against the royal couple, who are expected to arrive in Kingston on Tuesday.

However, the group said its members are seeking an audience with the Mountbatten-Windsor family on longstanding controversial issues, including the key demand for reparation.

Lewis Brown, treasurer of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolence Society, said the group is liaising with the Ministry of Gender, Culture, Entertainment and Sport to carve out a window of opportunity to meet with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

“We send a letter to Minister (Olivia) Grange, hoping that she will open up a way so that we can make a presentation to them as a reminder of the country’s reparation claims from slavery,” Brown said in a Gleaner interview on Saturday.

“The Prince is coming here, and we would like to make a presentation in the form of a letter, reminding them of their responsibility of reparation as their family benefited from enslaving Africans in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.”

Brown said that the Rastafarian organisation was awaiting a response to the letter, which was dispatched last Wednesday, from Grange.

Rastafarians, adherents of the Afro-Christian religious movement founded in Jamaica in the 1930s, have accused the royal family of aiding and abetting transatlantic slavery and being beneficiaries of the funds that helped spread the British empire.

Part of that reparation mandate, Brown argues, should be the writing off of loans and financing for the construction of more schools and public hospitals in the island.

Brown said that the benevolent society would discuss late Sunday whether it would demand an apology from the royal family for the atrocities of slavery.

But Jamaican Anglican priest the Rev Sean Major-Campbell is more blunt, calling for the royals to tender an apology to the nation.

In a letter to The Gleaner on Sunday, Major-Campbell recounted what he termed the “crass disregard” from then United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron during his 2015 visit to Jamaica.

Cameron, who stirred controversy by offering part-funding for a prison with the proviso that Jamaican deportees serve out their incarceration here, “displayed a lack of common decency, emotional intelligence, and sensitivity for the pain and suffering endured by our revered ancestors and the manumitted who were never even compensated for the centuries of Great Britain’s prosperity at the expense of the lives and dehumanizing experiences”, said the Anglican priest.

“... The insult to our human dignity, self-worth, and autonomy is so palpable that many no longer realise the ongoing effects of the sheer cruelty wrought upon us by the genocide and holocaust of the transatlantic slave trade,” he added.

It is unclear whether the Holness administration will broach the issue of reparation with the royal couple, but Grange has long declared the Government’s support for compensation.

“It is only fair for those who have wronged our ancestors to pay the debt they owe to the present generation,” Grange said at a forum in 2018.

“Back pay is based on the very important reality of something owed – a debt to be paid. As such, it is not charity. It is not the grandchildren of the former enslaved begging for development support from the former enslavers. Rather, it is an honest and relevant position entwined in international law by which those enslaved or oppressed in the past, or their grandchildren, and who were not suitably or sufficiently remunerated for their past activities, may legally and rightfully claim in the present back pay.”

Lester Michael Henry, the Clarendon Central member of parliament, recently estimated that a 10-billion-pound settlement would be reasonable compensation for the slavery debt owed by the British Government, which enslaved Africans from 1655 to 1834.

There is anxiety about whether anti-royal organisations and lobbyists could upstage the Jamaica visit by the duke and duchess.

Last Friday, a protest by villagers in Belize forced the royal couple to adjust their itinerary.

Opposition was ignited in a dispute between residents of Toledo district and Flora and Fauna International, a conservation charity of which Prince Williams is a patron.

The villagers protested against plans by the Belize government to allow a helicopter landing of Their Royal Highnesses on a community playing field.