Picture yourself playing in your yard with your brothers and sisters. Your mom is in the house cooking dinner for the whole family. Your father is sitting eating. All of sudden you see soldiers arrive at your house. They don’t knock or ask to come in. They break the door down. They take your father. They come back and take your mother from the kitchen. They come back again and this time they take you and your brothers and sisters.

They march you outside your house where your mother and father are put in chains. You are chained up too, like animals. Your friends from next door are also in chains. As you look around you see that your neighbourhood has been destroyed and all the houses are burning. They tell you all to start walking. You walk for hours until you get to the beach. Your feet hurt, you are hungry and all you want to do is go back home. At the beach there is a big ship and you see your neighbours being pushed into the ship. People are crying and everyone is scared. You don’t know where the ship will take you. You have to lie squashed together in the ship for weeks until you come to a different country where you are sold as a slave.

This was what happened to people who were taken from their homes and turned into slaves during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which took place between 1500-1800 AD. About 17 million Africans were taken from their homes and were sent to be slaves in places like Europe, America, the Middle East and India.

What is slavery?

Slavery is when a person is owned by another person. They are forced to stay and work in a particular place without getting paid. They are not allowed to do anything without permission from their owner; they have to ask to eat, they have to ask to sleep and they are often beaten – their bodies are not their own.

Throughout history, slavery existed in many different places including Africa. In the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the slaves were put on a ship, taken to new countries where they were sold. Many people died during the process of being captured and many people died during the travels between Africa and other countries. Once a person became a slave, they and all their children, would become slaves for the rest of their lives.

One of the main causes of the slave trade was the development of Europe and America, and the need for cheap or free workers because paid workers were too expensive. America for instance, had sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations but it became too expensive to pay the workers. Instead, the colonisers turned to Africa to provide workers in the form of slaves.

There was resistance to the slave trade. Many slaves themselves resisted being captured by escaping or by jumping from the slave ships. Many kings, queens and chiefs in Africa fought against the slave traders. After years of resistance and pressure, especially from the Anti-Slave Society, the slave trade came to an end. In 1833, Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act freeing all slaves in the British Empire, including the ones in South Africa.

Some historians argued that the end of slavery was not only because people thought that slavery was wrong, but also because it was getting expensive to keep the slaves. Once you bought a slave, you had to give them a place to stay, you had to give them food and if they did not work hard enough, there was nothing the owners could do. By the end of the 1800’s, it became cheaper to employ the free slaves who worked throughout the day for very small pay.

People celebrated when slaves were released. However the truth is that even when slaves were free, they did not have the benefits of education or wealth from the past. Many of them stayed doing the same kinds of work, using the little money they earned to pay board and lodging. But at least they were not owned by another human being.