Wilberforce FOUGHT FOR THE ABOLItion OF SLAVERY

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HHH AMAZING GRACE. Directed by Michael Apted, with Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney, Romola Garai and Youssou N'Dour. WILHELM SNYMAN reviews.

THIS year marks the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade within the British Empire, hence the release of this film, to mark the occasion and to pay tribute to a remarkable man, William Wilberforce, who fought tirelessly to end the practice.

The fact that the British and, for that matter, other overseas empires at the time, relied on slavery to sustain themselves, indicates why it was so difficult to get rid of this scourge.

Until it made economic sense to get rid of slavery, the passage of Wilberforce's parliamentary bills through parliament would always be stymied. It took 18 years for the House of Commons to finally concede to his call for the abolition of the trade.

With an all-star cast, Amazing Grace goes a long way to help us to understand how slavery in the English-speaking world came to an end, that the fact that it does not exist today in the form that it did then is not something we should take for granted.

The film opens up various debates, primary among which is whether we as a species are capable of progress in the way we regulate society and harmonise this with economic fundamentals. How was it possible that a corner of the world that prided itself on its contribution to civilisation could have been underpinned for so long by a trade that contradicted so egregiously the Christian values which it claimed to uphold?

What this film also makes clear is that the abolition of the slave trade was, besides a threat to vested interests, an issue with international implications. Wilberforce's call for the abolition of the slave trade caused him to be labelled unpatriotic, in that abolition could be deemed to undermine the British economy at the height of the struggle against Napoleon, when Britain was most vulnerable. …