A view from South Africa

I want to link to a debate on Ten Taxis, a South African blog, for a couple of reasons. One of them is that, in commemoration of the Abolition Act, two Ministers of Government here — Fred Mitchell of Foreign Affairs and Alfred Sears of Education — organized two days of activities that helped to focus our minds on slavery and history and by extension ourselves. (A week ago, Cultural Commission and the Festival of African Arts had done a similar thing; but ministers have higher profiles).Anyway. On Friday gone, we had a day in communion with African and Caribbean intellectuals -- Nalidi Pandor, Minister of Education for South Africa, and George Lamming and Maureen Denton, Caribbean writers. Need I say who Lamming is? (If you have to ask, go do some research of your own). Denton is a playwright and actress, and they collaborate. This was hosted by the Minister of Education. Yesterday, in Fox Hill, we had a day in communion with them again, but in commemoration of abolition. This was hosted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the MP for Fox Hill.The difficulty is, though, that these commemorative activities have already been politicized in ways that do far more harm than good. Someone somewhere has decided — absurdly — that slavery and emacipation and the general history of the Bahama Islands are a PLP issue, and not a national one. Thus the discussion of slavery is painted in navy blue and yellow, and is carefully walked around on cat feet by those people whose political allegiance is paramount. As for those of us who don't care to politicize these issues, we are invisible and unheard.I'm linking to this debate, because it's about the position of Afrikaners in the new South Africa, and raises a number of issues that I think are relevant to the debate about slavery and emancipation, and — more important — raises them in such a way as to be fairly rational and open to engagement.We can only dream of such an exchange occurring here. Can't we?Anyway, here are the relevant links. And here's to Ten Taxis for posting the exchange.

The point about this is that South Africa's liberation is a whole lot more recent than ours. And unlike us, South Africa is not apparently shrinking from the difficult discussion that has to be had in order for the victims of oppression — who include both the oppressors, who have sacrificed their humanity, and the oppressed, who have had their humanity stripped from them — to begin to heal. Of course, I could be wrong, and looking at the issue from the perspective of too many thousands of miles truly to understand. But I found the exchange, and the fundamental respect which surrounded it, a far cry from the kinds of rhetoric in which we engage round here, where the fact that black Bahamians also owned slaves appears to provide readers and writers of The Tribune with a defence of slavery rather than raising the more pertinent question — whether any of the slaves owned by Free Blacks (or even by slaves themselves) were ever Europeans. I think not. The oppressed are not excluded from oppressing others. But we have to ask the right questions to draw sensible conclusions. In an election year, the rightness of the question is the last thing on our minds.In the absence of sensible discussion about oppression and liberty and history that deals specifically with us, then, I point you to South Africa to get a sense of what such a discussion could be.