When the words Africa and slavery are connected usually it revolves around the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. This was a gruesome chapter in history. There are, however, many more sides to the connection Africa and slavery. We can look at the pivotal role Zanzibar played in the slave trade and the important role of Tippu Tip. These are all matters that are belonging to the past (with its ramifications still for the present!).
Unfortunately slavery has not left the African continent. Mende Nazer, a young Nuba woman, tells in this revealing book her life story. She was raised in a harmonious and loving family, in the south of what was then a united Sudan. In her book Slave she tells of her happy early childhood, her work in her own house and on the compound, the stories her father told, her sibling and the cattle, about marriage and circumcision, the wrestling competition of all groups of the Nuba people. So many stories to be told.
Then, one night, Arab mujahaddin attack the village, houses are being torched, people are killed and young girls and boys taken captive. Mende is one of those children captured. She is by that time about eight or nine years young. A child that did her utmost at a small primary school. A young girl hoping to become a medical doctor one day. The children are taken to a camp site near a large town where they stay until traders from the north buy them and one takes a group, including Mende, to Khartoum. During the long journey the young children stay at the back of the pickup. The slave trader sells the children and Mende ends up with a family with young children. Here she has to deal with a harsh mistress, Rahab. She and her husband are devout muslims and they do not recognize that Mende is a muslim herself. In the eyes of Rahab Nuba are wild people, not muslims. Year after year she has to work hard in the house, during her short nights she sleeps in a shack in the garden. She is beaten. She is ridiculed. She is abused. She is a slave and she hears that day after day. After two years in the house she is allowed for the first time to be outside the compound. After four years she ends up in hospital, Rahab wants her to be as short as possible in that hospital. A Shilluk nurse who looks after Mende stands up against Rahab. This is an eye opener for Mende. A black woman who is not to be bullied around by an Arab woman. After six years as a slave Mende gets the news that she will be given for a time to a sister to Rahab who lives in London.
When Mende has reached the age of nineteen her master makes sure she gets a passport and a visa to travel to London where Rahab’s sister Hanan and her family live. June 2000 is the time she arrives at Heathrow Airport, where a driver of the Sudanese embassy picks her up and brings her to Hana and her family. The husband of Hana works at the embassy as the deputy ambassador. Life with Hana is much better than life with Rahab, but it is still no life of freedom. When the family travels to Sudan for holidaying she stays with some one else who works at the embassy. Omer, the embassy worker, wants to know more about Mende and her situation in Sudan and at the house of the deputy. He realizes somethings is not going well with Mende. Mende fears to tell anything and she does not want to bring Omer in a difficult position. She tries to contact other Nuba people, who can help her to find freedom. Then Rahab and her family return from Sudan and Mende returns to her household to take up all the hard work again.
Modern slavery. That is what this book is about. After a peaceful and harmonious youth as a very young child the life of Mende is shattered by slavery. Slavery, not in a forgotten corner of the world, but in capitals cities as Khartum and London. Not in lower classes of society, but up to the top level in Sudanese society.
Mende and Damien Lewis together have written a modern accusation against all those people who keep up modern slavery.
They have put into the picture all these young victims of this system off exploitation.
They have given words to untold suffering.
Mende Nazer & Damien Lewis – Slave – 2002