FEATURE-Mozambique slave descendants demand justice as reparations calls grow

* Amakua slave descendants seek return to S. Africa land

* Community leaders consider wider push for reparations

* Pressure grows globally for slavery compensation

By Kim Harrisberg DURBAN, Aug 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It is 150 years since hundreds of Mozambican slaves were freed by the British, only to be forced into indentured servitude in South Africa. Now, their descendants are calling for reparations.

“When slavery was stopped, who was compensated? The slave owners and traders … We were put into indentured labour,” said Wally Sheik Anwarudeen, 75, an elder from the Amakua-Zanzibari community that traces its origins to the enslaved Mozambicans. Community members in South Africa’s eastern coastal city of Durban gathered recently for a festival to mark the 150th anniversary of their ancestors’ freedom with traditional dances and songs – but also with calls for justice.

The British brought the Mozambican slaves to South Africa – a British colony at the time – after intercepting illegal slave ships en route to Zanzibar in the 1870s. Slavery was abolished across the British Empire in 1833. They took them to what is now KwaZulu-Natal to fill the province’s labour shortage – an idea British Empire officials found so useful that they sent for more Amakua to expand this growing labour force, community elders said.

Under the colonial indentured labour system, the Amakua had to work for their freedom in South Africa, and decades later their descendants were forced off what would become “white-only” land during the apartheid years, Anwarudeen said. “We should have been sent home but we were sent to a colony instead, we were taken away for nothing,” Anwarudeen said during the festival, as community leaders called for the return of the community’s confiscated land and financial support for initiatives to protect their language and culture.

The Amakuas’ calls reflect growing pressure on former colonial powers in Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean for reparation measures to benefit the descendants of millions of enslaved people and tackle entrenched racial inequalities. At least 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped and forcibly transported by mostly European ships and sold into slavery between the 15th and 19th century.

APARTHEID LAND LOSS The Amakua elders say their demands are multifaceted, but recovering the snatched apartheid land is a key demand.

The indentured Amakua workers initially rebuilt their lives on land in the Durban neighbourhood of Bluff, but were driven out in the 1950s under the apartheid-era Group Areas Act – a divide-and-rule method to physically segregate racial groups. Bluff became a white neighbourhood, and the Amakua were taken to Chatsworth, a predominantly Indian area where most of them still live today.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Amakua won a land claim to return to Bluff, but community elders say administrative delays within the Justice Department have stalled the handover process. The Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“This (handover) has taken too long, and it needs to be resolved timeously,” said Ntando Khuzwayo, a councillor for the local eThekwini Municipality who attended the festival. “We believe in the importance of ensuring that people’s land is restored to their rightful owners,” he added, vowing renewed efforts by the city to help expedite the process.

Besides reclaiming their former land, the Amakua have detailed plans to preserve and promote their Emakhuwa language and culture by establishing online archives, a heritage museum, a mentorship scheme and school language programme. They are also calling for funding support for these projects from local and international governments.

Anwarudeen and other community members said such initiatives reflected their determination to proudly claim back their identity in a country where they were either seen as “too Black” to be Indian or Muslim, or “too Muslim” to be Black. “It broke my heart when I learnt we were brought here as slaves,” said 19-year-old Faatima Sulaiman, who attended the festival with her family. “But it’s a history and a culture I want my children to know about.”

REPARATIONS PLAN But while the land claim is more clear cut, the Amakua acknowledge the complexities of seeking reparations over the international trade that enslaved their ancestors.

“We want to pursue reparations. The difficulty is so many were responsible. The Arab slave traders, the Portuguese, the British, the Omanis,” said Anwarudeen. “We need proof, which we have, we have the colonial documents,” he said. “But how do you place a value on human life? We need many, many meetings and a plan of how to proceed,” he said.

Until then, Amakua elders said they wanted to ensure younger generations reconnect with their roots. Among those invited to the festival was a group of Amakua visitors from Mozambique who sang in the Emakhuwa dialect. “If we forget where we are from, we won’t know where we are going,” Jiniki Fraser, a cultural leader and one of the festival’s organisers.

The Amakua also hope their fight for justice will inspire the descendants of enslaved people around the world. “Every slave descendant should not give up. Fight tooth and nail. Go and look for avenues and get information from those in similar (situations) to you,” said Moosa Salim, 74, chairman of the Amakua Elders Committee.

“Fight for your freedom,” he said.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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