The apology from William Gladstone’s family comes as many descendants of Guyanese African slaves are seeking compensation.
The family of former British Prime Minister William Gladstone apologized for their family’s slave-owning past in Guyana on Friday, as descendants of the slaves demanded damages.
William’s father, John, was one of the largest slave owners in the parts of the Caribbean colonized by Britain. It is also believed that he owned two ships that transported thousands of Asians from India and elsewhere to work as indentured labor after the abolition of slavery in 1834.
“Slavery was a crime against humanity and its harmful impact is still felt around the world today,” Charles Gladstone, William’s great-grandson, said during the launch of the International Center for the Study of Migration and Diaspora at the University of Guyana.
He added, “It is with great shame and regret that we acknowledge the involvement of our ancestors in this crime and sincerely apologize to the descendants of those enslaved in Guyana.”
“We also urge the descendants of those who benefited from slavery to open conversations about the crimes of their ancestors and what they might be able to do to build a better future.”
The Gladstones also apologized for their role in employment contracts, which bound workers to their employers.
But his words were met with a strong rebuke by the many Guyanese descendants of African slaves who were present in the university’s lecture hall.
One of them shouted, “This is unacceptable.”
The demonstrators held banners that read: “Your guilt is the real Charlie. Move fast towards reparations now” and “The Gladstones are killers”.
African-American activist Nicole Cole, who was among the protesters, said the apology was not enough.
“No apology can ever be enough, but it is a step towards admitting that a crime has been committed and that people’s lives have been disrupted,” she told AFP.
Charles Gladstone and five other family members have pledged support for the work of the new university department, and have called on the UK to hold talks with the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) over compensation.
Besides the “sincere official apology”, the right of return for the descendants of the “stolen people” and the cancellation of debts to clean up the “colonial mess”, the CARICOM pursues a development program for indigenous communities in member states and funding for cultural institutions. Like museums of slavery.
Eric Phillips, a member of the CARICOM Compensation Committee, said research showed Britons owed more than $1.2tn to the descendants of Africans in Guyana.
Charles Gladstone told AFP that although he could not comment on the actual monetary figure, the UK and governments in Europe may be “scared of the amount”.
Meanwhile, Guyana’s President Irfan Ali on Thursday slammed the descendants of European slave traders, saying those who profited from the ruthless transatlantic slave trade should offer to pay reparations for today’s generations.
The leader of the South American country also suggested posthumously indicting those involved in the slave trade with crimes against humanity.
Ali said: “The descendants of John Gladstone must now also define their plan of action in line with the plan of the Caribbean Community … to achieve reparative justice for slavery and forced labor.”
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”