Leon Lemmer: Liberië, die eertydse Amerikaanse ‘kolonie’ vir vrygestelde slawe

Straattoneel in Monrovië, Liberië

Liberië is ‘n land aan die kus in Wes-Afrika, met Sierra Leone aan sy wesgrens, die Ivoorkus aan sy oosgrens en met Guinee in die noorde. Die hoofstad is Monrovië, vernoem na James Monroe (1758-1831), wat as Amerikaanse president (1817-1825) $100 000 bewillig het sodat vrygestelde Amerikaanse slawe hulle in veral Monrovië kon vestig. Die land se naam is ‘n vervorming van die woord “liberty”. Engels is die enigste amptelike taal en die land het ‘n bevolking van 4,7 miljoen. In die hoofstad is die christelike godsdiens dominant. Veral Amerikaners het ‘n diepgaande invloed op die land gehad. Anders as in Suid-Afrika is daar tot op hede groot waardering vir blankes omdat Amerikaanse blankes telkens tot die redding van Liberië gekom het, bv met die bou van ‘n diepsee-hawe vir Monrovië ná die Tweede Wêreldoorlog. Dit is gedoen in ruil vir die landings- en hervullingsgeriewe wat Amerikaanse vliegtuie gedurende die oorlog in daardie land gehad het (James Ciment, bron hier onder, Kindle 3224).

Handelaars van die Franse stad Dieppe het hulle tussen 1364 en 1413 aan die Liberiese kus by die hedendaagse kusdorpe Buchanan en Greenville gevestig. Portugese seevaarders het hierdie gebied in 1461 bereik en die latere Monrovië Cabo Mesurado genoem. Engelse en Hollandse seevaarders het spoedig gevolg. Handel is in veral peper, goud en slawe gedryf. Amerikaanse vrygestelde slawe het hulle van 1821 af in veral Monrovië gevestig, hulle land in 1847 onafhanklik verklaar en tot 1980 in Monrovië en ander kusstreke (eerder as die binneland) geheers. Hierna het die inheemse swartes politieke beheer oor die hele gebied oorgeneem en het die land in selfs groter chaos en agteruitgang as voorheen verval.

Die 1980-oorgang in Liberië vertoon ooreenkomste met die 1994-oorgang in Suid-Afrika. In Suid-Afrika was blankes die politieke heersers terwyl dit swartes van Amerikaanse slawe-oorsprong (“Americo-Liberians”) in Liberië was. In albei gevalle is hierdie setlaars deur die inheemse swart meerderheid verswelg en daarna as tweedeklasburgers geminag en aan diskriminasie onderwerp. In Liberië behoort dit veel makliker te gewees het om die swart setlaars met die inheemse swartes te integreer as die blanke setlaars in Suid-Afrika omdat die ras- en kultuurverskille daar baie kleiner as in Suid-Afrika is. By die Amerikaanse Liberiërs was/is daar egter ‘n sterk elitistiese gesindheid, veral by die mulatto’s/basters, wat hulle as die leiers van die setlaars bewys het (131).

Ek skryf hierdie rubriek na aanleiding van veral James Ciment se boek, Another America: The story of Liberia and the former slaves who ruled it (New York: Hill & Wang, 2013, 319p; Amazon Kindle $11,49). Liberië is die eerste land in Afrika wat homself onafhanklik verklaar het, naamlik in 1847. Haïti is die land in die Weste wat reeds die langste deur swartes beheer word; sedert 1804. In albei gevalle heers daar steeds die uiterste agterlikheid. Na beraming leef 85% van die Liberiërs steeds onder die broodlyn. Na aanleiding van 13 mense wat uit die vorige politieke bewind na ‘n staatsgreep in 1980 in Monrovië tereggestel is, skryf Ciment: “I began to think of Liberia as a noble experiment that had ended awfully. Freed slaves, given to govern themselves, had turned out to be no better than the white imperialists who had descended upon Africa around the same time. If there was any lesson to be taken from Liberian history, it was a general one about human nature: an oppressed people could readily become oppressors” (56); ‘n gevolgtrekking wat ook op Suid-Afrika toegepas kan word.

Mettertyd het die volgende in Monrovië en ander setlaargebiede in Liberië gebeur: “Every colonist keeps native slaves (or as they term them servants) about him, varying in number from one to fifteen, according to the circumstances of the master. These poor souls they beat unmercifully, and more than half starve them, and all the labor that is done at all, is done by these poor wretches” (1256). Dit was dus eertydse Amerikaanse slawe wat in Afrika mede-swartes ná 1821 verslaaf het, terwyl slawehandel in 1807 deur Brittanje verbied is.

“Events after 1980, especially the [Liberian] civil war [1989-1997, 1999-2003] … would prove to be one of the most brutal in postcolonial Africa’s bloodstained history, shocking the world with images of drugged child soldiers, costumed as if for Halloween, AK-47s hanging loosely from their skinny brown shoulders … What role did that century and a half of Americo-Liberian rule play in the terror than followed? … what had happened to the descendants of the former American slaves who founded the nation? When a temporary peace came in the late 1990s, I traveled to Liberia to find out” (56). [Suid-Afrika het ‘n soortgelyke geskiedenis. Die land is onder die leiding van blankes ontwikkel maar “bevry” weens geweld gepleeg deur terroriste met onder meer AK-47-gewere. In ons geval is daar egter minder besorgdheid oor die lot van die blankes as wat daar oor die nageslag van die eertydse Amerikaanse slawe is. ‘n Ander verskil is dat FW de Klerk en sy geesgenote beweer dat hulle mandaatlose oorgawe aan swart mag ‘n burgeroorlog in Suid-Afrika voorkom het.]

Dit was vir Ciment moeilik om Monrovië te bereik omdat daar geen gereelde vlugte was nie. “The country’s international airport had been destroyed … Liberia began where the roads ended … Liberia appeared unchanged from Graham Greene’s description of the country sixty years earlier” (64). Greene het Liberië in 1935 besoek. Ek hoop om in ‘n volgende rubriek hieroor te skryf. Ciment skryf: “Monrovia was in ruins, having been the objective, in 1996, of the last great offensive of the civil war … in 1980 Monrovia was home to 100 000 residents. Now it had a million, mostly refugees from the war-torn countryside” (71). “I tried to examine the nation’s archives, but they had been destroyed in the fighting. Fortunately, I found when I returned home [America] that substantial records had been preserved in this country” (86).

“Liberia was born of a white idea: that the burgeoning and unwanted population of free blacks and emancipated slaves in post-Revolutionary America [War of American Independence, 1775-1783] could be sent to Africa … America could rid itself of its most ‘useless and pernicious’ class of people while simultaneously establishing a beachhead from which Africa could be civilized and Christianized” (115). Die vrygestelde slawe wat hulle in Liberië gevestig het, was nie in staat om die land volgens hulle eie idees te transformeer nie. Hulle het die voorbeeld van blanke Amerikaners slaafs nagevolg.

“The early settlers of Liberia brought the mores of their homeland with them. They arrived in West Africa full of entrepreneurial energy but also with a propensity to settle disputes with violence [similar to blacks in South Africa]. Their benevolence was inseparable from their firm conviction that theirs was a superior civilization. In Africa, they endeavored to recreate the only social and political order they knew, that of the antebellum South – with themselves as the master class in the style of plantation mansions and dressed in formal nineteenth-century clothes, despite the equatorial climate … They established familiar institutions … A few of the more well-to-do settlers carved plantations out of the jungle and, from columned porches, sent orders to the natives tilling their cotton, tobacco, and coffee crops. The Americoes by and large equated liberty with the pursuit of money … Most telling, they established a republic but kept it for themselves … The Liberian constitution largely ignored the natives, except as objects of paternalist protection” (93).

Eers in 1904 sou ‘n mate van burgerskap en stemreg aan inheemse swartes gegun word. As hierdie vrygestelde Amerikaanse slawe hulle van vroeg in die 19de eeu af kultureel hoër of meer ontwikkeld as die inheemses geag het, kan dit nie moontlik in selfs groter mate vir die blankes in die 17de eeu en daarna in Suid-Afrika geld nie?

“As in America, the elite had a dynastic quality: politicians begat politicians, and the right last name could mean everything” (108); ook in Suid-Afrika – dink aan die Mandelas en Sisulus. Anders as die blanke bewind in Suid-Afrika, “the Americo-Liberian ruling class had been corrupt, callow and callous, at one time even being accused by an international tribunal of running a slave ring” (93). Dít “leads one to see tragedy, not justice, in their violent demise at the hands of a people they by and large oppressed. Hidebound by their Americanness and surrounded and outnumbered by natives, they could never reconcile their idealism with their pursuit of power and wealth, and with their very survival” (108).

“To the natives, the settlers, though they looked uncannily like themselves, were just another group of outsiders with hostile intentions. They called the newcomers the ‘black white men’ and attacked their settlements. As one early settler explained in a letter to his former master in America, you can try to help the natives but ‘they still will be your enemy'” (123), dus stank vir dank, waarmee blankes goed bekend is. “The very people the Americoes had done so much to co-opt or keep down had had enough and rose up against them. For the Americoes, being in Africa but not of it proved an impossible proposition in the end” (153); ook vir die blanke Suid-Afrikaners, veral Afrikaners?

Die geskiedenis van Liberië as Amerikaanse “kolonie” het in 1816 met die stigting van die American Colonization Society (ACS) begin. Sommige blanke Amerikaners wou van vrygestelde en basterslawe ontslae raak en hulle in Afrika hervestig, maar terselfdertyd verseker dat hulle die christelike geloof aanhang. Daar was ook behoefte aan ‘n heenkome vir slawe wat van slawehandelaars bevry is deur die tussenkoms van Amerikaanse skepe. “Between June 1860 and June 1861, nearly 4 500 recaptives were brought to Liberia” (2116). Onder die Amerikaanse swartes was daar min wat na Afrika wou gaan, wat bevestig dat hulle, selfs as slawe, glad nie so sleg deur die blankes behandel is as wat deesdae voorgegee word nie. Aanvanklik was daar net 88 (of 82) vrywillige emigrante (289) wat na Liberië onder die leiding van drie blanke agente sou gaan (305). Hulle het in 1820 op Sherbro-eiland aangekom maar hulle spoedig by Freetown, Sierra Leone, hervestig en nie in Liberië nie.

In 1821 het ‘n verdere 34 setlaars onder die leiding van twee blankes gevolg, wat hulle op eilande by Cabo Mesurado, gevestig het en later op naby geleë land aan die Mesurado-rivier en hierdie gebied Monrovië genoem. Die nedersetting in Liberië het dus aanvanklik onder die beheer van blanke amptenare van die ACS gestaan. Daarna het die leiding na mulatto’s oorgegaan. Die Amerikaanse swartes het met Monrovië as sentrum gepoog om beheer oor die inheemse swartes in die res van Liberië uit te oefen, maar met beperkte sukses. In 1884/5 het die Europese moondhede ‘n ooreenkoms oor kolonisering bereik, waarvolgens effektiewe beheer oor alle koloniale gebiede uitgeoefen moet word waarop aanspraak gemaak word (2163). Die setlaars in Monrovië het hulle gevolglik verplig gevoel om hulle voortaan vir die “occupation and pacification” van die binneland te beywer as hulle Liberië in sy geheel wou inpalm en behou (2171).

Indirekte regering is ingestel (2325) deur politieke gesag (bv regspleging en die invordering van belasting) aan die binnelandse konings en opperhoofde, bygestaan of oorheers deur regeringskommissarisse, toe te ken (2332). “In the 1920s and 1930s, the government representatives in the hinterland became laws unto themselves, using the troops under their command to humiliate chiefs, seize native property and women, and brutally enforce labor corvées [unpaid labour] and the hut tax” (2340). “Visitors to Liberia, particularly white ones, had long accused the Americoes of mistreating the natives” (2567), bv “It was not the custom in Liberia for any gentleman to carry parcels” (2559). In 1980 het hierdie soort kolonisering geëindig toe die inheemse swartes politieke beheer oor die hele land verkry het.

Daar was aanvanklik groot idealisme oor wat hierdie oudslawe in vryheid op eie inisiatief tot stand sou bring. In 1855 berig ‘n reisiger egter: “No man there has now or ever had, five acres of land cleared and in cultivation” (555). “A large proportion of the emigrants entitled to land, had not drawn it ” (1096). (In die nuwe Suid-Afrika neul die swartes voortdurend oor grond, maar die oorgrote meerderheid verkies geld bo grond.) Aanvanklik “no natives would work for the settlers” (738). “The lack of draft animals and tools didn’t help” (1130). Hoewel die setlaars dieselfde kleur as die inheemses gehad het, is hulle as indringers beskou, ten spyte van ‘n vroeë ooreenkoms met die plaaslike opperhoof oor die besetting van grond. “They paid for the island and took the cape” (800). “Their very presence led to violence” (1181). Soos een van die setlaars geskryf het: “In my present thinking if we have any ancestors they could not have been like these hostile tribes in this part of Africa for you may try and distill that principle and belief in them and do all you can for them and they still will be your enemy” (1264).

Een van die groot oorsake van wrywing was dat die setlaars, dus vrygestelde slawe, teen slawerny gekant was terwyl die inheemse swartes, veral die stamhoofde, ten gunste van die lonende slawehandel was (763, 800). “Their efforts to combat the slave trade provoked chiefs into attacking outlying colonial settlements” (1181). Die eerste ernstige skermutseling het in 1822 plaasgevind (782), waarin vier setlaars gedood is (791), gevolg deur nog ‘n aanval in dieselfde jaar (831). Die swart setlaars het vroeg reeds in opstand teen die blanke ACS-hoof gekom en die voorraadskuur geplunder, waarna die tekort aan kos ernstiger afmetings aangeneem het (873). Hierdie blanke het aan die swartes gesê: “Instead of labouring as you ought to raise food, you would obtain it by plunder” (880). In ‘n latere verslag aan die ACS oor “settler indolence and stupidity” staan: “They have never when in the U States voluntarily laboured for their own support, and now, when the stimulus of the overseer’s lash is removed, cannot be induced to exert themselves sufficiently to procure even a scanty subsistence … most of the people that comes out here by the time they get over the fever they becomes some thing like the native and wont work if they find that they can get along by stealing” (1087).

In 1824 het ‘n verdere 105 Amerikaanse setlaars aangekom (877) en in 1833 nog twee dosyn en ‘n aantal blanke sendelinge (978). “Of the 3 160 colonists who set sail for Africa between 1820 and 1833, more than 1 700 were already free; just over 1 100 had been manumitted for the purposes of emigration. The remaining few hundred were Africans seized by federal authorities in their crackdown on international slave trafficking. Over the next fourteen years, from 1833 through Liberia’s independence from the ACS in 1847, 200 free blacks and 1 500 manumitted slaves, again mostly from the Upper South, left for Liberia. The shift was a product of the dying-off of liberal planters who freed their slaves in their wills for the specific purpose of emigration, and of free blacks being swayed by the news of disease and death in Liberia as well as by abolitionist attacks on emigration as the humbuggery of the age” (978).

“Whereas fewer than 2 000 emigrants arrived in Liberia between the mid-1830s and the late 1840s, nearly 6 000 came in the dozen years leading up to the American Civil War [1861-1865]” (2109). “By 1861 … the Civil War effectively put an end to emigration from the United States” (1776; ook 2109). Daarna “Liberia began to benefit from the arrival of small numbers of highly educated and skilled West Indians” (2109). Die historikus, Eric Burin, “calculates that of the 2 887 African Americans who went to Liberia between 1831 and 1843, fully 42 percent died of disease, war with the natives, accidents, and ‘the sundry dangers of settler life'” (1035). “More than five hundred colonists … left Liberia for other destinations between 1821 and the first colony-wide census in 1843. Most went to the West Indies or joined the ranks of African American seamen … Some even returned to the United States … These failed emigrants drew the ire of those who remained in Africa because they appeared to undermine Liberia’s very reason for existence, as a refuge for the persecuted free man of color” (1333).

Die American Colonization Society het beheer oor sy eie sake, soos sy voorrade, behou maar ander besluite spoedig aan verteenwoordigers van die setlaars oorgelaat (904). Hierdie setlaarsraad is sedert 1825 toegelaat om die hoofagent van die ACS in Liberië te adviseer (1370). Diefstal en opstandigheid het egter voortgeduur (bv 946). Die filantrope in Amerika het hoopvol gebly dat die “moral desert [Africa] should rejoice and blossom as the rose” (954). “White men still ran Liberia” (1341). In 1838 het Liberië ‘n “semi-autonomous commonwealth” geword, maar al hoe meer setlaars het onafhanklikheid van die ACS begeer (1350). In 1847 is onafhanklikheid verklaar met onder meer “dignity” en “honorable ambition” as haalbare ideale. Daar was ook die aanspraak dat die setlaars “susceptible of equal refinement and capable to equal advancement in all that adorns and dignifies man” is (1358).

Die eerste Liberiese president, Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809-1876, president 1848-1856 en 1872-1876), was “more white than black” (1427). Hy was glo slegs ‘n agste swart, al lyk dit nie so nie. Monrovië was toe ‘n gemeenskap “dominated by the light-skinned, freeborn sons and daughters” van eertydse Amerikaanse slawe (1474). “Mulattoes dominated the higher reaches of political and economic life in early Liberia” (1745). “Mulattoes typically had more money, better skills, and a higher level of education” (1791). In 1846 het die kiesers (10% van die bevolking – 1696) met ‘n klein meerderheid ten gunste van onafhanklikheid gestem, “though it excluded natives, women, and any settler with less than $25 in real property” (1629). “Race outweighed all other considerations in the thinking behind and the writing of the Liberian constitution” (1671), bv “None but persons of color shall be admitted to citizenship in this Republic” (1671) en “only citizens could own land … ‘we the people’ explicitly meant black men and women only” (1679). “In the 1860s, JJ Roberts’s ruling party feared an influx of darker-skinned people from the West Indies” (2621). “By the 1920s, the Americo elite … had become far more selective about whom they let in” (2638). Hulle wou ten alle koste die politieke mag behou. Wie het gesê swartes is nie tot rassediskriminasie/rassisme in staat nie?

Die aandrang op swart mag het ook ‘n oorheersende rol in die formulering van die huidige Suid-Afrikaanse grondwet gespeel, bv geen groepsregte vir minderheidsgroepe (soos in bv Amerika) nie terwyl die swart meerderheid as rasgroep sy wil op alle nie-swartes kan afdwing. Wanneer in die nuwe Suid-Afrika beweer word “the people” begeer die verdeling van rykdom, die oneiening van blankes se plase sonder vergoeding, ens, word uitdrukking aan die wense van swartes gegee. Ciment skryf: “The natives, who outnumbered the settlers by 25 or 50 to 1, depending on how far Liberian jurisdiction actually extended, were strangers in their own land, subject to Liberian law but excluded from citizenship … The country was divided into coastal counties, where Americo residents were citizens, and inland territories with virtually no voice in the government” (1703).

“Disease was part of a cycle of poverty and poor health that crippled initiative among new emigrants. Rather than finding their feet during the six months they were housed and fed by the ACS, recently arrived colonists spent much of the time in bed or wandering the streets in a fever-induced daze. By the end of the half-year, they had often failed to become self-sufficient. Many remained too ill to work, and unable to buy food, they starved, which triggered relapses of malaria … ‘Everybody wants doctors but none can pay them'” (1053). “Monrovia bred ‘drones (loafers) in the community and obstacles to the prosperity of Liberia'” (1139). Die skuld vir swart onvermoë word, soos tans in Suid-Afrika, op die blanke Amerikaners gepak. Soos ‘n swart setlaar dit gestel het: “It is our duty to prove that the mental and other disabilities under which the Negro labors as a result of his service antecedents are not inherent … but that they are solely the result of circumstances, to be altogether removed when those circumstances are altered” (1940).

“In the middle years of the nineteenth century, thanks in part to the settlers themselves, the Liberian hinterland was riven by fighting. The colonists’ expansion into the interior displaced villages and even whole tribes, setting off internecine warfare among the natives” (1181). “As for the wars between natives and settlers, far from having ‘ceased’, they would continue well into the twentieth century, and over much the same things that had always sparked them – trade, land, and settler arrogance” (1299). “Natives displaced by war or famine often had no alternative but to work in the colony. And there is little question that native labor was cheap and readily available” (1256). “When put to work, they had to be watched or they would slack off. They had no respect for property” (1273). “The natives do not like to be governed by a colored man and they do just as they please almost” (1281).

Van ‘n land wat met die uitsondering van ‘n klein groepie Amerikaanse basters steeds oorheersend swart is, word gesê: “The matter of color resonates in every corner of Liberian life” (1745). Dit toon dat rasbewustheid by alle mense voorkom, hetsy wit of swart. In Liberië was daar die ideaal, ten minste by die setlaars, van “a convergence of Africa and the West, a place where the best of each world would foster black self-rule” (1736). Maar nadat die swart inheemses van 1980 af politieke beheer oorgeneem het, is die land ontwesters en al hoe meer verafrika. In Suid-Afrika het die blankes eeue lank in merkwaardige mate daarin geslaag om groot dele van die land die aanskyn van Europa in Afrika te gee. Die mandaatlose oorgawe aan swart mag in 1994 het egter meegebring dat die land toenemend ontwesters en verafrika word. Die groot wenners is die (swart) politici en amptenare en nie die ander inwoners nie; nie die swart massa nie en veral nie die blankes nie.

Een van die geykte besware teen Suid-Afrikaanse blankes is dat hulle hulleself as beter as die nie-blankes beskou (het). Dieselfde kan van die bastersetlaars in Liberië en hulle eweknieë in Amerika gesê word: “After visiting a Methodist church in Charleston, a colonization agent noted that the mulatto congregants ‘utterly refused to sit promiscuously with the blacks; and that, in all relations in life, they maintain the same dignified reserve; that the two classes are as totally distinct as it is possible for them to be’ … One group of mulattoes went so far as to tell the ACS … that they would only go [to Africa] ‘provided they could have a colony to themselves'” (1799). ‘n Swart setlaar het gesê: “The mulattoes discourage all earnest patriotism and enterprise which look to the interior because of their fear of being absorbed by a people [ie Africans] they strangely persist in regarding as a foreign element … They will never succeed here or suffer us [black settlers] to succeed. And they can never be welded into the life of this African nation” (1898).

“Many blacks in turn resented and distrusted mulattoes … as mulattoes they faced not only the ‘prejudice of the white man’ but ‘the deeper hate of our more sable brethren.’ [Alexis] De Tocqueville [1805-1859] picked up on the tension and put it [in] another context, noting that ‘when quarrels originating in differences of color take place, they [mulattoes] generally side with whites'” (1807). “Thus in Liberia, where there were few whites and, after 1847, none in power, the prejudices mulattoes and blacks brought with them became magnified” (1816). Na hulle aanvanklike algemene ondersteuning van die ANC vóór en kort ná 1994 het die bruin inwoners van Suid-Afrika, veral die nie-elite, hulle mettertyd, soos die Amerikaanse basters, polities al hoe meer by die blankes geskaar.

In 1924 het Liberië se ekonomie sy grootste hupstoot gekry; nie vanweë die setlaars nie, maar danksy blanke Amerikaners. Firestone het ‘n ooreenkoms met die Liberiese regering gesluit: “a ninety-nine-year lease for a million acres at the extremely low rent of six cents an acre, per year. (Outright purchase of land by foreigners was prohibited under the Liberian constitution.) There would be no taxes either, other than a 1 percent levy on exports, and that wouldn’t start for six years. Firestone would also be granted a monopoly; no other foreigner could grow rubber in the country … Local natives would be given preferential treatment in hiring and white staff would be limited to 1 500” (2859). Let op die oorheersende rol wat swart rasbewustheid en -bevoordeling in hierdie ooreenkoms speel. Firestone “worried about Liberia reneging, by cutting a better deal with European competitors, for instance. Firestone did not like leaving anything to chance; Liberia would have to take out a $5 million loan if it wanted him [Firestone] to invest in the country as well as grant [Firestone] oversight of the nation’s finances” (2866).

Hierdie voorwaardes is in 1926 deur die Liberiese regering aanvaar sodat die land sy groot skuldlas kon afbetaal (2884). Kritici het die Firestone-ooreenkoms as die “American occupation of Liberia” beskryf (2874). “Three-quarters of a century after a band of free blacks and freed slaves had proudly declared their independence from one American institution, the American Colonization Society, their impoverished and indebted descendants had, out of necessity, capitulated to another. Liberia would remain a virtually wholly owned subsidiary of Harvey Firestone until its economic expansion after World War II” (2892). Firestone “simply paid chiefs for labor recruits” (2980), ens. Ek hoop om by ‘n ander geleentheid vollediger oor die Firestone-sage te skryf.

Oor die Amerikaanse setlaars se amptelike afkeer van slawerny is daar heelwat meer te sê. “Natives were never legally recognized as slaves, as that would have been a violation of every constitution by and for the colony” (1264). Omstreeks die voorlaaste eeuwending was daar ‘n groot oplewing in die kakaobedryf. In die Golf van Guinee, 2000 kilometer oos van Liberië, is daar ‘n eiland wat toe onder Spaanse beheer was en bekend gestaan het as Fernando Pó; tans Bioko genoem as deel van Ekwatoriaal-Guinee. Liberië se “chief export by the end of the nineteenth century was Liberian natives leased out by private Americo labor contractors, sometimes in collusion with local chiefs. Some served in King Leopold’s army of conquest in the Congo, others on plantations in the Gold Coast [Ghana] or Nigeria; a few helped dig France’s ill-fated canal in Panama. But the vast majority, tens of thousands over subsequent decades, were shipped off to plant and harvest cocao on Fernando Pó” (2933).

“By all accounts, conditions on the island were appalling – twelve-hour workdays, nights spent locked in crowded barracks, a few yams and dried fish for sustenance, and for those who stole, shirked, or protested, brutal punishment. There were even reports of overseers flogging men to death. Many others died of disease, malnutrition or exhaustion before their contracts were up” (2941). “And those who survived and returned to Liberia often went unpaid; some planters supposedly held their money in trust for them, while others outright refused to pay them” (2948).

Hierdie stelsel het die beskikbare arbeiders in Liberië verminder en die staat kon ook geen belasting hierop in nie. “To remedy both issues, the legislature issued a series of rules and laws to govern the traffic. In 1903, it required recruiters to pay a $250 licensing fee and a $5 tax on each laborer shipped, along with a $150 bond against their safe return, all of which, of course, gave Monrovia a direct interest in promoting recruitment and, with the bond, a motivation for turning a blind eye to working and living conditions on the island” (2948). In 1913 het die Liberiese president erken dat die stelsel amper soos slawerny is. Hy het ondersoek laat instel; ook na soortgelyke werksomstandighede op die Portugese eiland Sao Tomé (2956). Werktermyne is hierna tot hoogstens twee jaar beperk. Die Amerikaanse regering wou nie toelaat dat hy by hierdie arbeidsgeskil betrek word nie (2965).

“Domestic slavery was woven into the fabric of West African life, where people did not define themselves so much as autonomous individuals but through the sum of the relationships that sustained them – family, village, clan, tribe. Children and adults were regularly ‘pawned’, to use the Western term, to pay debts between families or cement alliances between clans … in the early 1930s … ‘most of the existing domestic pawns [in West Africa] do not wish to be freed, for if they were emancipated their bond to the Chief would be destroyed, and they would lose the protection of tribe. This would make them friendless outcasts and homeless individuals'” (2974).

Daar was die berugte hutbelasting. “Because natives often lacked the hard currency to pay this fee and others, governments imposed corvées. The chiefs would then select men to go off and labor for no pay and sometimes for long periods of time on public works, typically road-building or porterage” (2981). In 1930 Liberië “banned both labor exports and domestic pawning” (3152), hoewel laasgenoemde nog lank in die binneland voortgeduur het. Die Volkebond het dit selfs oorweeg om blanke administrateurs in Liberië te vestig om aanneemliker arbeidspraktyke te bevorder (3208).

In die Suid-Afrikaanse grondwet staan: “No one may be subjected to slavery, servitude or forced labour.” In ‘n land waarin daar op groot skaal nie vir bv munisipale, onderwys- en gesondheidsdienste betaal word nie en daar boonop groot werkloosheid heers, kan ‘n sterk saak, ten minste ekonomies, vir gedwonge arbeid uitgemaak word, bv om paaie te bou en in stand te hou. Die uitsonderlik groot tronkbevolking kan ook hiervoor ingespan word, des te meer omdat hulle, ten spyte van hulle onsosiale gedrag, hulle stemreg behou. ‘n Opsig waarin so ‘n innovasie as onregverdig beskryf sou kon word, is dat daar heel moontlik meer misdadigers buite as in die tronke is.

William Tubman (1895-1971, president 1944-1971) “would do more to bring his country and its political class [Americanoes] into the modern world than all his predecessors combined. Liberia’s days of forced labor and Frontier Force abuses were in the past; a new era of business opportunity – and police repression – would soon begin” (3223). “‘Uncle Shad’ had ushered in an era of unprecedented prosperity and progress, but one that included the repression of labor unions and of political dissenters” (3874). Tubman “presided over the country’s greatest economic boom” (3273). Hy het bv ‘n ooreenkoms, soortgelyk aan dié met Firestone, met die Amerikaner, Landsdell Christie, gesluit “to mine Liberia’s iron ore and pay only 15 to 20 cents per ton to Tubman’s government” (3405). “Tubman did not sell Christie land but the eighty-year lease he agreed to was a sale in all but name, as distasteful to contemporary Monrovia nationalists as the Firestone deal had been to their fathers” (3413).

“The government’s annual budget grew from a million dollars when Tubman took office in 1944 to more than $50 million in the late 1960s. Some of this new money served useful ends: paved roads fanned out from the capital … and hundreds of primary and secondary schools were built” (3430); ook klinieke (3498). Een van die groot bouprojekte herinner aan Nkandla: ‘n $20 000 “seaside Executive Mansion … [It] featured ‘an atomic bomb shelter, an underground swimming pool, a private chapel, a trophy room, a cinema and … because of the uncertainty of the city’s public utilities … its own emergency power plant, water supply and sewerage system'” (3438). Nog iets wat bekend klink: “Tubman himself was known for fathering children with at least a half dozen women, though most were of settler lineage” (3531). Daar is gesê nie Tubman nie maar “the Masons ran the country” (3369); soos eens die Guptas in Suid-Afrika?

In 1953 is Tubman se verjaardag tot ‘n openbare vakansiedag verklaar. “By the end of the decade, the birthday festivities had become an expensive traveling circus, as each county sought to outdo the others. Government workers – down to the lowliest elementary schoolteacher – had half a month’s salary withheld to pay for the increasingly lavish gifts. In 1960, Bassa [County] presented Tubman with a Chrysler, Maryland County, Tubman’s home, followed up a year later with a yacht, and in 1962, Sinoe [County] bought him an airplane” (3246). “The yacht was not intended for his personal pleasure, Tubman reasoned, but as a sign of Liberia’s dignity” (3446). “The problem soon became: what to give a president-for-life who had everything. A monument, a cultural center, and a military academy – all with Tubman’s name engraved on them – were erected in his honor” (3254). (Vergelyk dit met wat in die naam van die Nelson Mandela-manie plaaslik gedoen word.)

“Tubman called his efforts to bring twentieth-century civilization to the hinterland and to incorporate natives into Liberia’s body politic his ‘Unification Policy’. It culminated in the 1964 Unification Act, which finally put an end to the second-class citizenship of 98 persent of Liberia’s population: the act reconfigured the hinterland territories as counties and granted their propertied residents suffrage” (3498). “Though largely ignored, the old financial restrictions on voting still applied to the original coastal counties well into the 1970s” (5593). “Tubman understood the demographics of Liberia as well as any member of the settler community, and knew that making possible the full equality of the natives would quickly bring an end to Americo privilege and rule. Despite his strong early record on native matters, Tubman did little in the end to challenge the Americoes’ stranglehold on government” (3582). “He closed his ears to [native] pleas for a reconsideration of official Liberian history” (3590).

“Upon Tubman’s death, William Tolbert, Jr (1913-1980, president 1971-1980) … assumed the office” (3881). “Tolbert immediately moved to distance Monrovia from Washington, voting with the nonaligned bloc at the United Nations, allowing the Soviet Union to set up an embassy in the country, and transferring diplomatic relations from Taiwan to Beijing. He set up a commission to strip triumphant Americo-Liberianism from the nation’s symbols of sovereignty (though it ended up recommending few changes)” (3889). “He eased the political repression of the Tubman years …[and] also relaxed press restrictions” (3896). In 1973 is die Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) in Monrovië gestig (3905) met “African solidarity” as oogmerk (3913). ‘n Nagskool is in die hoofstad begin “which offered classes on reading, writing, and politics” (3922), soortgelyk aan die “geletterdheidsklasse” wat die swart bevrydingsbewegings met die ondersteuning van sommige linkse blankes in die vroeë jare negentig in Suid-Afrika aangebied het. Samuel Doe (1951-1990, staatshoof 1980-1986, president 1986-1990), ‘n soldaat in die Liberiese leër, was een van die leerlinge (3922). Amos Sawyer (gebore 1945, tussentydse president 1990-1994) was een van die onderwysers (4108). In 1975 is die Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) deur Liberiese studente in Amerika as teenhanger vir MOJA gestig. “PAL from the beginning espoused ‘black power'” (3922), maar albei “remained elitist operations” (3946).

Dit is egter nie hierdie twee bewegings wat Tolbert tot ‘n val sou bring nie maar die verhoging van die prys van rys, die stapelvoedsel in Liberië (3953). ‘n Kwart van die rys is ingevoer en die prys is vasgestel op $22 per sak van 100 pond (3968). Te midde van inflasie het die minister van landbou voorgestel dat die prys tot $30 verhoog word. “Liberia’s largest importers of rice were companies controlled by the Tolbert family” (3976). MOJA, PAL en ander groepe het geweier om die prysverhoging te aanvaar en in opstand in Monrovië gekom. “It took three days and seven hundred troops from neighboring Guinea … to suppress the rioting. Hundreds of businesses were looted, and by official count, forty-one persons killed, though most suspected the actual total was several times that … The offenders were imprisoned, brutalized, and humiliated, until they offered up apologies, like errant children, and were released” (4026). Tolbert “lowered the price of rice, set up a commission to study the root causes of the riot – the recommendations of which he duly ignored – and eventually pardoned most of the men” (4035), hoewel party van hulle voor die geskeduleerde verkiesings van 1980 en 1981 weer opgesluit is (4083).

Die Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) is nooit deur die Tolbert-regering as ‘n (ernstige) bedreiging beskou nie. Die soldate was egter inheemses (4092). Een van hulle was sersant Samuel Doe. Op 11 April 1980 het hy en 15 of 16 ander soldate Tolbert se ampswoning bestorm en Tolbert vermoor. Ná die staatsgreep het Doe die voorsitter en hoof van die nuwe regering, die People’s Redemption Council (PRC), geword (4115). Op hierdie manier is die politieke bewind van die Amerikaanse setlaars na 133 jaar beëindig. Dronk soldate het Monrovië op horings geneem. “Anybody with light skin or a settler pedigree was taunted by crowds and then beaten by men in uniform” (4164). Tien dae na die staatsgreep is 13 lede van die vorige bewind op 22 April 1980 op die strand van Monrovië gefusilleer (4179). Baie van diegene met ‘n ligte vel of historiese Amerikaanse verbintenis het uit die land gevlug en hulle in veral Amerika hervestig (4204). Sommige het in Liberië aangebly.

“Americoes have been overrepresented in every government since Doe’s 1980 coup, including the current one.They still own an outsize portion of the country’s lands and businesses, especially now that old property claims have been restored” (4348). Dit lyk asof die inheemse swartes in Liberië groter waarde aan hulle setlaars heg as wat die swartes in Suid-Afrika in die geval van die plaaslike blankes doen. Eers in 2008 is getuienis by ‘n Waarheids- en Versoeningskommissie gelewer, soortgelyk aan wat ons in Suid-Afrika beleef het (4186). “However corrupt, unjust, incompetent, and occasionally brutal the Americo regime had been across its 133-year reign, its crimes paled in comparison with the dictatorships, invasions, assassinations, civil wars, and anarchy that followed” (4193). Is dit ‘n spieëlbeeld van die soort gebeure wat vir ons in Suid-Afrika voorlê?

By ‘n latere geleentheid sal ek oor die geskiedenis van Liberië sedert 1980 skryf.

Neem deel aan die gesprek en lewer gerus hier onder kommentaar!

L.W. U gebruik die Disqus-kommentaarafdeling op eie risiko en PRAAG, die redaksie of enige verwante persone of entiteite aanvaar geen verantwoordelikheid vir u kommentaar en watter gevolge ook al daaruit mag voortspruit nie. Terselfdertyd vereis ons dat u ter wille van beskaafdheid, redelikheid en die gerief van ander gebruikers, u sal weerhou van kwetsende taalgebruik, vloekwoorde, persoonlike aanvalle op medegebruikers, twissoekery en algemene "trol"-gedrag. Enigeen wat só 'n laspos word, sal summier verbied word en sy IP-adres sal insgelyks versper word. Ons sal ook nie huiwer om, waar nodig, kriminele klagte aanhangig te maak teen individue wat hulle aan dreigemente, teistering of intimidasie skuldig maak nie.