International Day for rememberance of the slave trade and its abolition

Issued by the ANC Department of Education, 11 August 2000

The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed the 23rd August of every year, International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

This date was chosen as a reminder of the fact that slaves were the principal agents of their own liberation.

The night of the 22nd and the morning of the 23rd August 1791, on the island of Santo Domingo (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic), saw the beginning of the uprising that would play a crucial role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Unlike other human tragedies such as the Jewish Holocaust, the silence surrounding the tragedy of slavery and its attendant consequences, some of which are still felt now, is deafening. In recognition of this apparent amnesia relating to slavery, UNESCO has set up an international project called the Slave Route project.

The aims of the project are:

Whereas the transatlantic slave trade is the most commonly known, other forms of slavery and practices occurred in other parts of the world, including South Africa at the same time. Cape Town served as an important port for the slave trade as practised by the Dutch East India Company.

Following the Great Trek, the Boers practised slavery in the old Transvaal.

In recognition of its involvement in the practice of slavery, Dr. Wally Serote was appointed to represent South Africa in the International Committee of the Slave Route Project. He in turn set up the South African chapter of the Slave Route Project in 1996. The South African chapter of the Slave Route Project has similar objectives as the International project but has elaborated on more objectives which contextualize issues of slavery and their impact on present day initiatives of nation building:

They are as follows:

The South African chapter of the Slave Route Project would like to use the 23rd of August 2000 to remind South Africa of its record of human rights abuse, and to call for an appreciation of the layers of oppression that have been practised on some of our compatriots but more significantly to challenge the nation to develop programs that can transform these scars of abuse into opportunities for healing and development.