Come and Get It

Iziko Slave Lodge

Here at Books Meet Computer HQ (ie: our two laptops usually perched on library desks) we get really excited when we see articles about new finds on display in museums, and even more excited when those finds have the potential for helping people tell old stories in new ways, and offer new perspectives. This story in the Daily Maverick about the excavation of Portuguese slave ship which sunk off the coast of Camps Bay in Cape Town in 1794, is just the kind of story that makes us do little chair-dances of joy (quietly though, we’re in the library after all).

But the story has a twist, which left us slumped at our desks and sad… Seems the remnants of the wreck are being sent to Washington DC, where they will be on unspecified long-loan to the Smithsonian. According to the article, one of the reasons for this is to ensure “…. the greatest visibility for this work and help Americans face up to slavery and its legacy in their history.”

The history of slavery in South Africa is not discussed all that often either. We have a lot of shameful history to process, and there are many reasons why the recent history has taken centre-stage. But the Iziko Slave Lodge is one of the institutions which is working to encourage South Africans and others to think about what slavery meant in South Africa, Cape Town and beyond. The presence of the ship would have been a powerful catalyst for those conversations, not to mention a potentially valuable research object, and a link between South Africa and Mozambique’s shared experience of slavery.

SAHRIS, the South African Heritage Resources Agency has over 3000 shipwreck sites listed on its site index, so we know that this is not a new area of research and teaching for South African archeologists.

I’ve got a South African passport and have gone through the nightmare of trying to apply for a US visas several times. I suspect that it is equally difficult for Mozambican citizens. Somehow, I can’t help thinking that saying “I want to come and see the remains of a slave ship which technically belongs to us” will wash with the scary US Customs and Immigration heavies at JKF.

Image: Iziko Slave Lodge by Jorge Lascar on Flickr CC BY 2.0