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Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 1999 /4 Teves, 5760

Nat Hentoff

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Guess who is taking the lead in anti-slavery movement? Hint: It ain't Rev. Jesse -- IN MORE THAN 100 classrooms around the country, children have been raising money to free black Christian and animist slaves in Sudan. They first heard of this new abolition movement from a fifth-grade teacher, Barbara Vogel, and her students in Denver's Highline Community School.

These young members of a growing liberation movement have particular cause to celebrate this Christmas season because in October, Vogel went to Sudan, where the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International and the American Anti-Slavery Group organized the release of 4,300 black women and children.

UNICEF and others have charged that buying back slaves can motivate slave raiders to capture more victims, thereby increasing their prices and profits.

The exiled Catholic bishop of the Sudanese city of El Obeid, Macram Gassis -- who surreptitiously returns from time to time -- strongly disagrees, as do the chiefs and elders of 40 of the villages involved. They and the families know who has been taken, and they say there has been no increase in the slave trade. Indeed, during the most intense periods of liberation, the raids have decreased.

So far, 15,447 slaves have been redeemed, and the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group has begun a national campaign aimed at companies investing in Sudan, whose National Islamic Front government in the north is accused of encouraging the slave trade.

The Texas Teachers Retirement Fund has sold all 100,000 of its shares -- worth several million dollars -- in Talisman Energy Inc., Canada's largest independent oil company, which heavily invests in oil fields in southern Sudan. Another divestment is that of TIAA-CREF, the national pension fund for professors and other college employees, which had more than 261,000 shares in Talisman, worth about $7 million.

And Alan Hevesi, comptroller of the city of New York -- contemplating possible divestment -- has written to James Buckee, president of Talisman, pointing out that New York City's pension funds include 185,000 shares of Talisman common stock.

Hevesi expressed his concern over reports that "Talisman is a source of vital fuel to a Sudanese air force base for bombing missions . . . because of its economic interest in the removal of indigenous people from lands in which the country's richest oil fields are located." Buckee says he is opposed to forced relocation.

In the Nov. 29 National Post of Canada, Charlie Gillis reported from Sudan about a demonstration by black Christians "who had been driven out of southern Sudan's oil fields by the continuing assault on them by the government in Khartoum and its army."

In his letter to Talisman, Hevesi also wrote of "horrific accounts of alleged government-sponsored slave raids on villages, the abduction of women and children, and the mass slaughter of men." Hevesi has written similar letters to the Coca-Cola and Pepsi companies, in which New York City's pension funds have invested.

Congress finally has awakened to slavery in Sudan by passing, in June, a House resolution deploring "the government-sponsored slave raids in southern Sudan" and calling "on the government to immediately end the practice of slavery." The vote was 416 to 1, and a Senate version of the bill passed 97 to 2.

Particularly active in this abolition movement is Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who has gone to Sudan to see for himself. On Nov. 19, the Senate unanimously passed the Sudan Peace Act, cosponsored by Brownback. It calls, among other things, for human rights monitors to promote an end of government bombing of civilians in the south.

One of the leaders in the effective divestment and other campaigns to end apartheid in South Africa was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who told a friend, the Rev. Chuck Singleton, recently that his "plate is too full" now to include involvement in this new campaign.

Singleton is senior pastor of the 10,000-member interdenominational Loveland Church -- in Rancho Cucamonga, near Los Angeles -- where Jackson often has preached. Singleton tells me he believes that "with the power and influence this man has in the world, he can do more. I believe he soon will."

Quindrana Gee of Clarksdale, Miss., has written President Clinton: "I am an African American sixth-grade student that is very interested in the history of my race. When I read about there still being slavery, I was shocked. I really would like you to do something about it. . . . I would like for you to understand the hurt. Please help us."

If Clinton answers Quindrana with a good deal more than his assurance that he feels her hurt, he can measurably enhance his legacy.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Ammendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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