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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2007, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Church and slavery
On Sunday Sunday 25 March, Andrew Marr interviewed The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Dr John Sentamu
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu

JOHN SENTAMU: Because there has been quite a lot of information our people ... suffering from overload.

They are grateful for the fact that parliament actually did pass the first Act. It required another Act, nineteen ... eighteen twenty seven. And another one eventually in eighteen thirty three to abolish slavery as it was.

So there is a sense in which parliaments, although they really were dragging their feet, needs to look up and say by the way we tried to change the course of history.

ANDREW MARR: So it shows what democratic ..


ANDREW MARR: .. politics can ..


ANDREW MARR: .. can do. Now your church has apologised ..


ANDREW MARR: .. formally ..


ANDREW MARR: .. for the slave trade in very unequivocal language.


ANDREW MARR: Do you think the government should be doing the same thing?

JOHN SENTAMU: I mean I, I reckon because we live in representative democracy, I suspect that if they don't it looks as though we don't want to really as a nation which benefited on the labours of a lot of other people and been treated really like goods, we ought to be able to say by the way I think this was such a, an awful thing to take a human being and treat him like onions and maize. I mean a nation of this quality ought to really have a sense of saying I think we, we are very sorry.

We want to put the record straight. But also just to remember Africa has to do this ... because they were capturing the slaves and selling them. So I feel all those who were involved in the selling and in the trading are duty bound - this is a very strong nation and you ought to have that courage to actually say through our representatives that actually we got this wrong and we're sorry.

ANDREW MARR: Ken Livingstone has apologised on behalf of London. Tony Blair doesn't quite apologise does he? He says that it was a, an appalling crime against humanity, it was a terrible episode in human history, and we should be grateful that we live in happier times. But he doesn't then go on to say "And I formally apologise. I say sorry on behalf of the British people". That's what you think needs to be done?

JOHN SENTAMU: Yes I think ... happen because if you've got a view that communities are made up of individuals but they create a particular community. Britain is our community. And this community you know was involved in a very, very terrible trade. Africa as a community was involved in a very, very terrible trade. The church as a community was involved in a terrible trade.

And it is really important that we own up to what was collectively done. Two hundred years, it's better to reflect and say by the way we're living in peaceful time, we've embraced the Human Rights Act. We now believe there is dignity. This is really the moment at which you say by the way I think our forbearers did a terrible, terrible thing.

ANDREW MARR: So your message to the prime minister ... go a bit further?

JOHN SENTAMU: I think he should go a bit further. Yeah. I mean there are those of course who talk about reparations and all that. I have never understood what that's about. Because as a Christian I think it's ... restore... people is to ensure slavery doesn't happen, is to say sorry where you are capable of doing this.

And I love that thing of Bob Marley said you know we must liberate our minds from slavery. So if people can be liberated this is the jobs. I think it should go further than that.

ANDREW MARR: We do have a situation even now where black people, particularly possibly young black men in this country are if not repressed at least kept out of the ordinary work force and we have a problem of violence, we have a problem of knife crime, we have a problem of persistent educational under performance. How much do you think, if at all, that is connected with the history we're talking?

JOHN SENTAMU: People forget that particularly if you come from an Afro Caribbean background, these are generations of children where parents really gave birth to kids and then they were separated. And, and when that actually has been the kind of culture in which you've been raised I am not surprised that the achieving level of African children compared to Afro Caribbean children seems to be much higher.

And just remember some of those mothers were raped you know, during the slave time. And it takes time to actually cure a generation of the bad experience or the bad motivation. And I would have thought that the best thing Britain can now do is to make sure that children are being given tremendous support and that actually fathers, fathers take great responsibility in the children that actually they father. Because in the long run if we do not get quite a lot of role models from fathers I don't think we're going to turn the tide at all.

ANDREW MARR: To what extent do you think that the greater secularisation of British society is a problem in all of this?

JOHN SENTAMU: Particularly for me, the Christian faith has shaped the nation and some people now think to be a Christian is really to be a little bit weak in the head you know, to doubt everything, to knock everything is the order of the day. And I don't actually think that's a very British way of doing things.

ANDREW MARR: You lived through Idi Amin's regime. We're seeing something awful happening next door in Zimbabwe where one of the Archbishops there has said that, that the people of Zimbabwe should rise up behind their priests and the priests should, should as it were charge the guns on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe. How do you react to something like that?

JOHN SENTAMU: It is probably people's power that will ever stop the kind of brutality that you are seeing with Mugabe's regime. It seems to me that yes the people of Zimbabwe should probably rise up but the neighbouring countries, especially South Africa and I think you know President Mbeki, has really got to show his hand.

You see Mugabe has been ever so successful in telling all the African countries around that this is purely Britain's problem because at Independence they promised sort out the land and they didn't sort out the land. And now they're squeezing us. But actually he's telling a lot of fibs.

He's telling a lot of porkies. And those African countries have got to realise that actually this is no longer tenable. We cannot bide and blame Britain. I think Britain should work very closely with the United Nations and try to get some sanctions against Mug... Mugabe really.

ANDREW MARR: Do you, do you think we're on a tipping point ...?

JOHN SENTAMU: I think we're on a tipping point. I mean we are on a tipping point. To get an Archbishop who is by nature very peaceful now saying we've got really, got to rise up and you're now hearing even people from Mugabe's government actually saying that we're trying to persuade him to step down.

Mugabe really has got to be stopped because he is, he's taken a country which was flourishing - and I've visited it about nine times.

A fantastic place. And he's ruined it. Absolutely ruined it. Economically. His people have been in many ways imprisoned by his entire system. Children are starving. And the world cannot any longer simply look on. They just can't look on.

ANDREW MARR: We began by talking about slavery. There is of course a lot of slavery still going on around the world, particularly sex slavery but slavery of different kinds as well. To what extent do you think after the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition in parliament of the slave trade we need to carry on talking about slavery?

JOHN SENTAMU: I mean we've got to do so. I think the trafficking, particularly in children in countries in particularly in West Africa seems to be endemic. I mean seems to be very problematic really. And you know Andrew there is the other thing which worries me you see. Okay, Britain may be less of a problem but just do remember what about trade conditions. Coffee. Cocoa. Tea.

Where children really are working under terrible conditions and vicariously we're supporting that bad trade by the kind of cheap coffee and cheap tea, things that we get. So in the end two hundred years anniversary says to you and says to me whatever we're doing we live in a global village. Somebody may be doing it somewhere else. But vicariously I may actually be supporting it and encouraging it. And so trade justice for me is just as important.

ANDREW MARR: And we have our duty here. Archbishop thank you very much indeed for joining us.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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