Slavery, Banks and the Ambivalent Legacies of Compensation in South Africa, Mauritius and the Caribbean

Slavery, Banks and the Ambivalent Legacies of Compensation in South Africa, Mauritius and the Caribbean

Author: 
Graham, Aaron
Place: 
Oxon
Publisher: 
Taylor & Francis Group
Date published: 
2021
Record type: 
Journal Title: 
Journal of Southern African Studies
Source: 
Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2021, pp. 473-487
Abstract: 

The British Empire formally emancipated its slaves in the Caribbean on 1 August 1834, then in South Africa on 1 December 1834 and in Mauritius on 1 February 1835. This arose largely in response to humanitarian pressures. Groups such as the Anti-Slavery Society sought not only to end the brutal system of enslaved labour but also to address the systematic marginalisation of people of colour from colonial society and to reform standards of social and moral conduct among both black and white populations. With the benefit of tuition by humanitarian agents, former slaves would take their place within a new society of free labourers, negotiating with planters and farmers for the terms on which their labour would be sold, and working more productively because they were now to be driven by their own desire for consumption rather than by the lash. The intention was, therefore, not to destroy the plantation sectors of these colonies but rather to rebalance them away from slavery towards a more efficient, humane system of free labour, but one ultimately still marked by social and economic hierarchies. The grant of £20 million to slave-owners in compensation was intended to aid this process by enabling planters to clear their debts and retool their plantations to meet the new conditions of free labour. This article examines one aspect of the system, the £1.5 million of this compensation that found its way into the banks founded in these territories between 1835 and 1840, and how it helped the process of transition in South Africa in particular. In the sugar colonies of the Caribbean and Mauritius, the money supported a new system of indentured plantation labour; in South Africa, it was channelled into banks that supported the existing agriculture of the western Cape and the expansion of settler capitalism in the eastern Cape. This enabled planters and farmers to ride out emancipation with far fewer changes to the wider societies and economies of the former slave colonies than humanitarians and abolitionists had hoped.

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CITATION: Graham, Aaron. Slavery, Banks and the Ambivalent Legacies of Compensation in South Africa, Mauritius and the Caribbean . Oxon : Taylor & Francis Group , 2021. Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2021, pp. 473-487 - Available at: http://library.au.int/slavery-banks-and-ambivalent-legacies-compensation-south-africa-mauritius-and-caribbean