Allies in Slavery
The Portuguese claim, of course, that they have abolished the slave trade and slave owning in their Colonies since 1871. “The Planters,” says Mr. Harris, “demand this attitude, and the governing authorities (partly because they are in the power of the planting community, and partly because an admission of the actual conditions would gravely embarrass Portugal and her ally Great Britain) keep up the fiction that their West African labour systems are purely those of free contract labour.” (Italics mine.)
The fraudulent nature of this claim is well exposed in the pages of Mr. Harris’s book, and will be easily realised when we look at the circumstances in which the “contract” is concluded.
“Upon arrival at the coast the labourers, utterly exhausted through long marches, are brought to the “Curador’s” office to give their “consent.” It is admittedly nothing but a matter of form, the black not having the faintest notion of what is going on in the office. But even if he did understand something about the proceeding, could anyone explain to him how a five years’ “contract” becomes one for life ? The truth of the matter was summed up by Mr. Vice-Counsul Smallbones in his recent official report, wherein he pointed that: “From what I have been able to gather, all the ‘serviçares’ I have now seen were bought in the province of Angola ; their original contract was a shame and the renewed contracts were a farce.” (Italics mine.)
What is true of the “contracts” is equally true of all the other “regulations” which have been and are being issued from time to time. They merely exist on paper, unless, indeed, they are actually turned against those whom they were supposed to benefit. As instance, the regulations concerning the repatriation of the slaves. Reformers were, no doubt, under the impression that they had rendered a signal service to humanity when in 1878 (seven years after the “abolition of slavery” !) a new regulation was issued providing for the repatriation of the serviçares at the conclusion of their “contracts” until even the Vice-Governor General of Angola had to admit to Mr. Smallbomes in November 1911 that “repatriation had become une mauvaise affaire,” that men “had not been repatriated, but expatriated.” In the first place, until 1908 (thirty years after !) not one of the slaves had been liberated, and though, according to Mr. Harris, “by 1913 a couple of thousand slaves had been restored to the mainland, it is clear that for the most part only the infirm and, from the planter’s point of view, the useless, were being set free.”
Moreover, there is a mass of evidence to show that by far the greater number of “repatriated” have been landed in Angola in an absolutely destitute condition, although another regulation passed in 1903 provided that each “repatriated” labourer should receive £18 upon landing in Angola. The “repatriated,” says Mr. Harris, “in vain sought for work . . . and a few days later there lay, in the outskirts of Benguella, out in the open, no less than fifty corpses ; those who did not or could not resort to theft in order to live had simply died of starvation.”
Thus are these unfortunate people “helped to settle on the spot,” as provided in the Brussels treaty, Article LII !
As has already been pointed out, the planters are quite capable of using the “regulations and laws”, as means of further enriching themselves at the expense of their wretched slaves. The Repatriation Fund is a case in point. What else, indeed, does the following statement prove if not the fact that the 1903 law has enabled the planters to rob their labourers of the greater part of the miserable pittance they earn ? But let the Anti Slavery Society’s statement to the British Foreign Office speak :
“We submit a short statement which we do not think will be challenged in any particular. The planters stated in 1907 that ‘each repatriated labourer will (under the 1903 law) receive about £18 upon landing in Angola.’ That this pledge has never been fulfilled is notorious. The Portuguese Government has now issued a decree by which every labourer landed on the mainland shall receive from the Repatriation Fund a minimum of £10. But owing to the defalcations it is inpossible for either sum to be refunded to the labourers. Accepting ths minimum basis that 30,000 people are entitled to such refunds, we find that to pay them their minimum of £18 per head promised by the planters would require £540,000, whilst to pay them the recently decreed minimum would require £300,000 ; but we understand that the fund to-day is less than £200,000. . There are on the islands not less than 30,000 labourers whose minimum legal wage is, for men, 10s., and for women 7s. 2d. per month. The deductions from these wages have varied from one-half to two-thirds since the law of 1903 became operative.” (Italics mine.)
When one bears in mind how completely the slaves are at the mercy of Britain’s proteges in these Colonies, that the renewal of the shame-contract is at the option of the employer, and when one further remembers the appalling death rate in the islands, the magnitude and villainy of this fraud becomes more apparent.
Much is said about the African’s intense loathing of bondage and unquenchable longing for liberty and homeland ; here is an example. Mr. Smallbones, describing how, during a visit to Agua Izé eighty serviçares asked to be allowed to leave the plantation, says :
“They were then all lined up, and the manager and his staff worked hard to get some volunteers to stay on. All their efforts were in vain. Even a woman who had had both her legs amputated below the knee insisted on wobbling on her hideous stumps to her native country, and a man whom also an accident on the plantation had deprived of both legs faced cheerfully the perils of the journey clinging to the back of a sturdy friend.”
The foregoing will no doubt give some idea of the extent of the slave traffic in these particular colonies, but it is noteworthy that if there are still about 30,000 slaves held in bondage on the islands there are at least five times as many on the mainland of Angola ; furthermore, it is stated upon reliable authority that for every slave landed more than one perishes en route, But I have not space to deal with more. How the chiefs are at present ordered by the Portuguese officials to bring labourers and are threatened with the application of armed force to catch the required workers tn their villages ; the awful recital of the horrors of the slave routes, where men too old to carry their burdens sink down never to rise again, and where children too young to endure the tropical sun, and whose little legs at last give out, are relieved of their sufferings by a stroke of the slave-driver’s axe; the grewsome tales of the weary trails strewn with the bleaching bones of countless thousands of human beings ; how fraud and force are used to compel the serviçares to “re-contract” : for all this the enquirer must be referred to the publications mentioned.