1950 to 1957 — A Retrospect

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

The false slogan, “10 ans de règne travailliste” is currently being peddled in Le Réveil. False, because despite the number of elected Labour MLC’s at the 1948 and 1953 general elections, there has never been a Labour government. Thanks to the anti-democratic method of nomination to the Legislative Council practised by Sir Robert Scott’s predecessors, the will of the electorate was frustrated and an anti-Labour majority ensured. Despite this, Le Réveil and its contributors persist in the false and ridiculous allegation that from 1948 to 1958 we have had ten years of Labour rule.

How, in fact, has Mauritius progressed over the last few years? A look at successive Reports on Mauritius will help to provide a statistical picture from which we may deduce the amount of progress or otherwise. Instead of taking the decennial period 1948-1958, I have taken the seven-year period 1950-1957; the period for which I have at hand the annual Report published by the Government Printer.

It is true that the cost of living has risen steadily since 1950, as “Omega” alleged. In January 1950 it was 23% above its level of March 1946, and by January 1957, 51% above the 1946 level; that is to say, it had risen about 20% in the period. But by December it had fallen somewhat, by over 4 points in fact, to only 47% above the 1946 level. And the big rise in the cost of living was associated with a rise in prices which accompanied the Korean war; the colonies reflected the rise in the UK where a government committed to doctrinaire free enterprise would not take even elementary steps to halt the steep rise in costs. For much of the rise in the cost of living in Mauritius, blame must be apportioned to the Tory Government of Britain for allowing UK prices to soar — for on the UK price level depends the price level of much of Mauritius’ imports.

But have wages kept pace with the rise in the cost of living? In 1950, a class I male labourer in the sugar estates received Rs. 30 per month basic, plus Rs 25.50 per month cost of living bonus. The next year he got Rs. 43.50 basic, plus 40% cost of living bonus. In 1957 this had only gone up to Rs 48.85 basic plus 46% cost of living bonus.

The daily-paid class I man was getting a total of Rs 2.96 per day in 1950 against Rs 2.72 plus 46% cost of living bonus in 1957. Dockers’ wages ranged from Rs 73 to Rs 145 per month in 1950, and from Rs 83 to Rs 250 per month in 1957.

Unemployment figures for the pre-Luce era are suspect but the rise in unemployment over the years is revealed by the (admittedly inadequate) figures provided by the Labour Department. These showed some 1,200 unemployed in December 1950, with monthly placings at under 300 in that year. Unemployment averaged 1,715 per month in 195l, and placings averaged 459. Registered unemployed dropped to 1,148 in 1952, and placings dropped too to 379. Unemployment rose to 2,382 in 1957 but placings through the exchanges continued to fall; to 298 in 1957.

The fall was partly due, of course, to the private bureaux sponsored by the Parti Mauricien, through which men could get work if they first became members of the Parti Mauricien and held the infamous one-rupee card. Mr Luce of course revealed the truth about unemployment (30,000) in his famous report whose truth the Parti Mauricien spokesmen and supporters have tried to deny while taking credit (which I have shown to be undeserved — in fact the Parti Mauricien spokesmen opposed Mr Luce’s coming) for the Luce investigation being undertaken. It is odd, you know, to find in Le Réveil a contributor accepting Mr Luce’s figure of 30,000 as true while the Parti Mauricien spokesmen and the sugar barons generally deny that unemployment is in fact as high as Mr Luce has said!

The Labour Department established its Registration Bureaux in 1949. If therefore Le Réveil is going to blame a “Labour Government” for allowing unemployment to get so high, it might also give credit to that Government for establishing the Bureau and so trying to do something about the unemployment problem, which the Department frankly admitted was a problem as far back as 1950. Yet Parti Mauricien spokesmen were denying the gravity of unemployment only two years ago. Le Réveil also criticises the administration of the old age pensions scheme and blames its règne travailliste for the fact that there is now no means test for a pension. But the thousands now getting an old age pension will thank (if there has been a Labour Government in Mauritius since 1948) a Labour Government for having introduced old age pensions. In 1950, the maximum pension was, at the start, Rs. 15 per month. Now the maximum is Rs. 22, and almost all pensioners (19,842 of them at the end of 1957 — two hundred less than a year before) were getting the maximum. In 1957, in fact the average was Rs 19.80.

Indices to the development of a country are its educational statistics. In 1950, there were 54,916 children attending primary schools (there were 138 of these), and 2,709 at secondary schools. By 1957 the primary school enrolment had gone up to 88,477 (thanks to the campaign ‘Admit our Children’ which was not noticeably supported by the Parti Mauricien), while secondary school enrolment was 3,408 — this does not take into account the attendance at private secondary schools. In 1951, Queen Elizabeth College was opened to meet the growing demand and need for additional secondary schools for girls. Also in 1951 the Loreto Convent, Rose-Hill, was opened. We have had expansion at the Royal College School; we are having new buildings for the Royal College. 12 new primary schools were opened in 1957 alone.

In the two years 1956 and 1957, 431 new classrooms were provided — all as a direct result of a rejuvenated school-building campaign resulting from the ‘Admit our Children’ campaign. The People demanded education for their children; such was the power of the voice of the People that increased provision was granted. But the capitalists have, through its spokesmen, in the past questioned the advisability of providing extended educational facilities. Why? Because they know that an educated electorate is a democratic electorate; and an educated electorate will sound the death-knell for ever of their Parti. Hence the Parti, spurred by self-preservation, seeks to restrict educational opportunity. Hence the Parti seeks to perpetuate the teaching (compulsorily) of French in all Mauritian schools, so as to ensure educational (hence social and professional and occupational) advantage for the minority capitalist bloc which has for years held in its rapacious hands the economic and political destiny of Mauritius.

But those years — the veritable years of the locusts — are coming to a close. The next election will surely see the triumph of democracy in Mauritius: triumph against, inter alia, the calumnies peddled so assiduously by “Omega” and others of his kidney in the columns of Le Réveil and other periodicals of like nature and inspiration.

6th Year – No 232
Friday 23rd January, 1959

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