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A Ghost Ship That tells a tale of misery

South Africa’s Cape was a player in the transatlantic slave trade, which saw 12 million Africans transported to the Americas. The discovery of a shipwreck is bringing this shameful history back to life.

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The São José-Paquete de Africa had been at sea for over three weeks when, just off Cape Town’s treacherous coastline, it was overcome by a bellowing storm. As gusty winds yanked at its sails, storey-high waves pushed the vessel closer to shore.

Captain Manuel João from Portugal refused to give in, after all was just a few sea miles away from Table Bay. The plan was to anchor there, stock up on food, water and other supplies, and sail on to Brazil to offload his precious cargo: 500 men, women and children from southeast Africa, packed like sardines in the dank belly of his ship. After delivering his load, João would return to Mozambique for a fresh shipment.

Mother Nature decided otherwise. On December 27, 1794, the São José smashed against razor-sharp rocks, 100 meters off present-day Clifton, an affluent suburb of Cape Town. The vessel disintegrated into matchwood and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic – taking 212 slaves with it. Those who survived were captured and sold into bondage in the Cape, possibly to recoup the damages.

The São José was soon to be forgotten, until sports divers stumbled upon her remains in the 1980s – after which the ship ended up in the archives as the Van Schuylenberg. This Dutch merchant vessel had gone down off the Cape coast in the 1750s.

In 2011, South African marine archaeologist, Jaco Boshoff, came across an account by João, in which he described how the ship had left Lisbon on April 27, 1794, to purchase slaves from Mozambique. On the 24th day of the voyage to Table Bay, for an interim supply stop before crossing the Atlantic, the ship was overcome by bad weather and sank.

More information has since emerged from the archives in Portugal and Mozambique, as well as the bottom of the Atlantic, which suggested that the wreck off Clifton was everything except a Dutch merchant vessel. So, in 2014, the partners of the Slave Wrecks Projects – which includes Iziko Museums of South Africa, the South African Heritage Resources Agency, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC – began unearthing what was left of the wreckage.

“We found iron ballast blocks, which were often used to stabilize slave ships. Human cargo tends to move around and is therefore more unstable than dead weight, hence the blocks,” says Paul Tichmann, curator of the Iziko Slave Lodge, a museum in Cape Town.

He adds that Portuguese archival documents confirmed that the São José had loaded iron ballast before departing for Mozambique.

“We also found slave shackles, copper nails, and sheathing,” he says. “Tests have indicated that these date back to the 1790s. The timber remains we have found, was proven to be a type of Mozambican hardwood, also dating back to that particular time.”

Unearthing whatever was left of the São José was not easy.

“It is a very difficult area for diving. The waters are very turbulent, with strong currents. One of the divers described it as working in a washing machine. There were times, they could only dive three days per month,” says Tichmann.

The discovery of the ship – which was announced in June – has been hailed as an extraordinary find, making headlines around the world. It is one the few transatlantic slave ship wrecks ever recovered.

The São José’s significance goes beyond that, says Patrick Harries, who has been studying the role of the Cape of Good Hope in the transatlantic slave trade for decades. The wreck, he says, has once again proven that the Cape – generally known as a refreshment stop for ordinary merchant ships – was an important service spot for slave vessels en route to the Americas.

“It served as such from the mid-1700s to 1834, when the trading and owning of slaves was abolished in all British territories,” he says, adding that slave ships anchoring in Table Bay were transporting slaves who had embarked in Mozambique, southern Tanzania, and Madagascar.

“Many were brought to the coast after being captured in the deep interior, for instance where Zambia and Malawi are now,” Harries says.

“They were then loaded onto ships in Mozambique, which would then sail to Table Bay to refuel prior to sailing on to their final destination. Close to half a million slaves were taken from southeast Africa.”

While supplying slave ships with wood, food and water, thus making a profit out of the transatlantic trade, Cape Town also absorbed some of these slaves.

“Generally speaking, a ship owner would sell 10 percent of his slaves in Table Bay to pay for the fuel and supplies,” Harries says. “They would end up working on farms.”

While the Dutch shipped East Africans into the Cape, they didn’t play much of a role in the transatlantic slave trade. The trade in humans from southeast Africa to the New World started under the French in the 1770s.

“The French had been using African slave labour since the early 1700s to keep the sugar plantations on Reunion Island and Mauritius going. They started transporting East Africans across the Atlantic upon realizing that they were worth more in Saint-Domingue than in Reunion,” says Harries.

Situated in the Caribbean, Saint-Domingue used to be the sugar capital of the world.

“Sugar was the petrol of those days, making it the jewel of the French empire,” says Harries.

The tide turned in 1791, when slaves in Saint-Domingue staged an uprising and took control, renaming the region Haiti. This put an end to the French East African slave trade.

Like their French counterparts, Portuguese and Brazilian slave ships stopped in Table Bay for supplies before crossing the Atlantic.

“Particularly the months between October and March, known as the slave season, were busy. There could be as many as three ships in Table Bay, each carrying 300 to 400 slaves,” says Harries.

Cape Town continued to service slave ships until December 1, 1834, the year the trading and owning of slaves was outlawed. This prohibited any slave ship from anchoring in Table Bay and put an end to the Cape’s transatlantic slavery role. This didn’t end the influx of cheap African labor into the Cape.

“In 1834, the Brits had granted themselves the right to hunt down any slave ship within their waters. The slaves on board these captured vessels were brought to British controlled territories, the Cape included. Here, these so-called ‘Prize Negroes’ were sold on as apprentices, for up to 14 years,” says Tichmann.

The ‘Prize Negroes’ were often worse off than slaves.

“Apprentices were a prized and expensive commodity. Those who bought apprentices felt they had to get the most out of them as long as they could legally have them. Conditions were therefore very harsh. They would not get paid. It was another form of slavery, really. This happened until the 1880s if I am not mistaken,” says Tichmann.

Records show that 3,000 to 4,000 ‘Prize Negroes’ were imported into the Cape, on top of the previously mentioned 63,000 African, Asian and Indian slaves.

Both Tichmann and Harries hope that the São José discovery will trigger a greater level of awareness around Cape Town’s role in the slave trade.

“South Africa always thought it was safe from that particular history, but in fact, the transatlantic trade in Africans is very much part of it,” Harries says. “It is important that people in the Western Cape acknowledge this. A large part of its population, after all, are descendents from these African slaves. Their ancestors survived a month in a slave ship, and experienced the most awful conditions imaginable. We need to remember,” says Harries.

Politics

Botswana’s President Denies Report Of $600 Million Loan To Zimbabwe

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Botswana’s president on Friday dismissed a report that the country had offered Zimbabwe a $600 million diamond-backed loan and said his government had only offered to guarantee a $100 million private credit line for Botswana companies to invest in their troubled neighbor.

Zimbabwe’s secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs was quoted in the state-owned Herald newspaper on Tuesday saying Botswana had offered to lend Zimbabwe $500 million to support its diamond industry and another $100 million for the local private firms.

“I want to clarify these reports that we are giving Zimbabwe hundreds of millions in loans. That is totally untrue,” Mokgweetsi Masisi told reporters in Gaborone, a day after visiting Zimbabwe for business and trade mission.

“We are not giving them a single loan. The only thing we gave them yesterday were medical supplies made in Botswana and supplementary feeding worth 2.1 million pula ($197,600).”

There is $100 million credit from private banks in Botswana and Zimbabwe to help Botswana private companies, Masisi added.

“What we have demanded, which we are waiting for, is a letter of guarantee from the Zimbabweans to counter our own guarantee,” he said.

Masisi also said Botswana, which is the largest producer of diamonds by value, would help Zimbabwe with its diamond trade because “it would be useful and strategic for Botswana” as it aims to become a global center of diamond trading.

Venezuela’s Guaido heads home to lead protests
Zimbabwe’s diamond sector has struggled since the government kicked out private companies from the eastern Marange fields in early 2016 after they declined to merge under the state-owned mining company.

Relations between Zimbabwe and Botswana have improved following a strained period when Botswana’s ex-President Ian Khama, who stepped down in 2018, routinely criticized Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe for holding on to power for too long.

A military coup in 2017 forced Mugabe to resign, ending his 37-year rule. -Reuters

Brian Benza

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Current Affairs

Twists And Turns Of Nigeria’s Election Campaign Trail

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The political atmosphere in Nigeria leading up to the February polls is tense. Challenging the status quo are new and younger contenders promising hope and change.


As the 2019 elections draw close in February in Africa’s most populous country, Atiku Abubakar has emerged the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) while President Muhammadu Buhari has been affirmed for the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) ticket.

Abubakar, a former vice president of Nigeria, has begun his campaign against president Buhari by highlighting the popular frustration of Nigerians over the rise in unemployment and poverty (two of the biggest voter concerns) on Buhari’s watch,as well as growing insecurity in central Nigeria.

Nigeria was recently voted the world’s poverty capital by the Brookings Institution. Consequently, the handling of the economy has already emerged as a major issue at the start of the election cycle.

In 2016, the country entered its first recession in 25 years due to a slump in oil prices and attacks in the Niger Delta oil-producing region. Although emerging out of recession in 2017, growth still remains tardy and inflation is just above the central bank’s single-digit target range.

Investor sentiment in the country is also low especially with leading telco giant MTN Nigeria being ordered by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to return $8.1 billion to the country claiming it was illegally repatriated from Nigeria.

 Atiku Abubakar.  Picture: Pius Utomi/ AFP/Getty Images

“If the fine is found to be unjustly imposed, it would have a negative implication on the image of Nigeria as a destination for foreign investors. Investors only invest in environments that have laws that protect them. If people are punished when they have not done anything wrong, that destroys investor confidence,” says Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Financial Derivatives, an economic think tank in Lagos.

This will be the fourth attempt by Abubakar to win a presidential election mirroring Buhari’s 2015 elections win. He defected from the ruling APC party and re-joined PDP to win the presidential ticket. In a speech in London, Abubakar unveiled his plans to offer a matching grant of $250 million each to the 36 states of the federation to challenge them to enhance their internally generated revenue (IGR).

Meanwhile,just as the election was shaping up to be a contest between two male political veterans, Obiageli Ezekwesili, a woman with a strong track record in economic leadership has announced her presidential candidacy for the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN).

Ezekwesili,who is the co-founder of the #bringbackourgirls movement, is perhaps the most prominent woman to challenge for the top job.

Her campaign for the return of the 276 Chibok girls kidnapped in northern Nigeriain 2014 by Boko Haram sparked worldwide support and led to the return of more than 100 girls to their families.

Ezekwesili also served as the country’s education minister and Vice-President of the World Bank. In a speech to her party, Ezekwesili said the two men she faces represent a “mediocre political class that bumbles from one crisis to another”. Her campaign strategy is to position herself as the candidate bringing hope back to Nigeria by challenging the status quo.

Also as part of her strategy, Ezekwesili, 55, is trying to appeal to Nigeria’s youth by highlighting the lack of understanding of technological advances happening in the country by her challengers, Buhari, 75, and Abubakar, 71.

However, in spite of her immense appeal, perhaps the youth might just need a candidate of their own who understands their needs and can speak for a nation where more than 50% are under the age of 30.

They may just have their wish. A welcome development to this election is the reduction of the age by which Nigerians can contest the election for public office.

The bill, popularly referred to as the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Bill, reduces the age qualification for president from 40 to 35; governor from 35 to 30; senator from 35 to 30; House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly membership from 30 to 25.

Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and an up-and-coming political leader, has taken advantage of this new window to register his own political party, Modern Democratic Party. The party is putting education at the top of its agenda and calling for the youth of Nigeria to stand together and have a unified voice.


Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi. Picture: Supplied

“We offer hope. Ours is a generation that is young, bold and open to possibilities. We believe that if hope can be returned to the heart of the common man/woman, they may once again start to believe in things becoming better. Right now, a lot of parties sing the word ‘hope’ and yet their internal democracy itself is hopeless,” he says.

“The masses are not blind. They see the internal wrangling in these political parties on the pages of newspapers. How then can they truly believe in a message of hope by these same people? Our youthfulness and firm grasp of the complexities and blistering pace of the world we live in today, easily make us,in our opinion, fit to lead. We understand the power of flexibility and we understand what ‘change’ really means. The world needs the youth right now, and we are finally ready to step up.”

He says his party is committed to building a structure capable of winning elections across all political spheres and levels with a resolution to put a spotlight on the downtrodden in society, a society that, according to Olateru-Olagbeji, is in critical need of deliverance from bad leadership.

“As a party, we hope to correct the present for the sake of the future; we hope to harness the mental and resources of my generation with fresh ideas and innovation because this generation is not tied to the prejudices and biases of the ones before us, we don’t see tribe, religion and even gender; we are united in our hunger for success. We hope to inspire a generation of young Nigerians and Africans to work at building our nation and continent, community by community, till we become the leading and ruling party,” he says.

The political atmosphere leading up to February is extremely tense.

No matter who is contending for the top job, one thing is certain,Nigerians need a new economy, one that provides them with opportunities for growth and prosperity, and they need that, yesterday.

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Politics

US President attacks SA’s land expropriation intentions, rand slides

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South Africa’s land expropriation without compensation intentions have caught the attention of United States President Donald Trump.

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