March 2013, Christendom celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer and missionary (1813-1873) who devoted a lifetime to the exposure and abolition of the slave trade. It is also the 180th anniversary of the death of William Wilberforce, the English Evangelical Member of Parliament who, after tirelessly striving for this cause, moved the British Parliament to abolish slavery throughout the Empire, including South Africa. The events of 1834 were a tremendous Christian victory, a triumph of the power of God through the Holy Spirit.
Human Trafficking is Modern Slavery
Since then, however, Christianity has declined and Humanism has ascended. Rulers are turning away from Christ and are codifying secular values in their law books. Protective laws are being abandoned, and slavery is coming back. But no longer is it called 'slavery.' Its new name is 'human trafficking.' In 2010 the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) warned that “trafficking is a serious problem in South Africa.” “Victims are mostly women, girls and boys trafficked for a variety of purposes, including prostitution, pornography, domestic servitude, forced labour, begging, criminal activity and trafficking for the removal of body parts (or muti). Young boys are trafficked to smuggle drugs and for other criminal activities.”1 Such 'business' flows into South Africa from Thailand, the Philippines, India, China, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine. African girls are traded from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, the DRC, Angola, Rwanda, Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria and Somalia. Traffic inside South Africa moves mainly from rural areas to the cities. “Young girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation,” says the HSRC Report, “because they are perceived to present less of a risk in terms of HIV and AIDS and because of the 'sexual desirability of youth.'” Particularly vulnerable is “the albino community for the harvesting of body parts to the belief of a 'white skin having potent powers.'” The slave traders are mainly large organised crime networks. They deal in smuggling, weapons and narcotics, and they work in collusion with border and other immigration officials.
Where have all the Blessings gone?
What, then, is left of the magnificent work, the fervent prayers and the decisive action which was taken by Christians like David Livingstone, William Wilberforce, and others, who laboured a lifetime to bring about the liberation of slaves? Africa has become unmindful of the blessings they brought and is once again embracing the evils of its past. Today, job seeking women and girls are lured to become models, maids or child minders, and then find themselves sold into massage parlours and brothels, while children are often kidnapped and run-away rebels are easily picked up. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that 130 000 persons are held in conditions of forced labour at any given time.2) In this situation God calls us “to open our mouths, to judge righteously and defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)
Most Profitable Crime
The United Nations and Interpol have claimed that “trafficking in human beings is now the third largest source of profits for organised crime… after drugs and arms trafficking.” In 2006 it was estimated that of 28,4 million slaves in the world, 1,2 million were sex slaves. The latter generate almost 40% of the total profits enjoyed by slave owners every year. The UN estimates that annual global profits from the exploitation of all trafficked forced labour amount to US$ 31,6 billion.3 Yet, the conviction rate of perpetrators is disappointing. In 2006, for instance, for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted. The Human Sciences Research Council stated that little was done by governments to counter this scourge. In South Africa, they said, even the gathering of research information had been difficult.
African Slave Trade
Africa has always been plagued by slavery. Long before the Christian era, before any European had set foot on its shores, Africa was engaged in the slave trade. Today, our children learn at school, that it was the Europeans who originated this evil, but history records that “90% of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. Without the complex business partnership between African élites and European traders… the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible…”4 Dr Peter Hammond adds: “The embarrassing fact of history is that the Europeans did not have to use any force to obtain these slaves. The slaves were 'sold' by their black owners. There was no need for the slave raiders to risk their lives or venture into the jungles of Africa, they simply purchased the people from African chiefs and Muslim slave traders at the coast… Many chiefs found it more profitable to sell their enemies, criminals and debtors than to kill or imprison them. Many were weaker neighbouring tribes conquered for the express purpose of selling their people into slavery…”5
Though none of this can be excused, it is a fact that the really cruel and exploitative traders were Arab Muslims who enslaved many more millions of Africans than were ever taken across the Atlantic. Their major slave markets were on Zanzibar, and the chief recipients of slaves were the rich Muslim Sultans in the Middle East. When David Livingstone witnessed the ivory-bearing, chained, burdened, exhausted, starved columns of men, women and children during his missionary journeys, he pledged all his energies to abolish this cruel trade. He wrote into his diary: “On Thy Word, o God, I lean. But wilt Thou permit me to plead for Africa? The cause is Thine…” Ever hopeful, he prayed for “this long downtrodden Africa”, saying: “Time must be given to allow the truth to sink into the dark mind, and produce its effect. The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord – that is enough. We can afford to work in faith, for Omnipotence is pledged to fulfil the promise…” In due time God did grant success to the Christian activism of David Livingstone, William Wilberforce, John Newton, William Carey and others. And thus, omnipotence indeed fulfilled the promise. In 1834 slavery was outlawed. In 1873 even the ruler of Zanzibar had to close down his markets.
Freedom in Christ
With the abolition of Christian laws in modern times, the slave trade is now coming back. As late as the 1970s the UN was receiving complaints of a thriving trade in Black slaves in East Africa. During the recent civil war in the Sudan, thousands of Christian Africans were captured and traded to Muslim slave owners in northern Sudan. Christian Solidarity International, a Christian human rights organisation in Switzerland, has been redeeming slaves with money donated by European Christians, setting the captives free.
In South Africa slavery is also thriving, for human trafficking is nothing but modern slavery. We call ourselves 'proudly South African' and laud our 'progressive constitution.' But what do we do to protect our women and children? Do we speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves? Do we treasure the moral laws which we still have? Do we remember the great Christian liberators? It is time to honour and emulate the heroes of our faith. May God give us power from above to resist and abolish slavery. If David Livingstone and William Wilberforce could do it in their generation, why can we not do it in our own? But it requires much faith. Ever putting his hope in Jesus Christ, Livingstone said: “We prepare the way… May they (future missionaries) not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom with few rays to cheer, except such as flow from faith in God's promises! We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see.
We are only morning stars shining in the dark, but the glorious morn will break!”6
Gospel Defence League
P. O. Box 587 Sea Point 8060
Cape Town South Africa
1.Human Sciences Research Council, Media Brief, 24.3.2010: Tsireledzani: Understanding the dimensions of human trafficking in Southern Africa, Internet.
2.Wikipedia estimates the number of persons held in forced labour in Sub-Saharan Africa at 660.000 (5%). This includes people involved in the illegal diamond mines of Sierra Leone and Liberia. See Slavery in modern Africa, Internet.
3.UN.GIFT, Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. Human Trafficking: the Facts, Internet.
4.Wikipedia, African Slave Trade, a study by historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University.
5.Dr Peter Hammond, Slavery, Terrorism and Islam, The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat, Chapter 1, The Scourge of Slavery, the African Slave Trade, 2005.
6.Iain H Murray, The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth 1984.