Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Peter Ibbotson
Accra is the capital of the Gold Coast. In Accra there is the exclusive Accra Club, whose membership is restricted to people of European descent only. It is the only club providing full facilities for its members (they number 1,500) such as bars, restaurant, dance floor, a golf course and a squash court.
Recently, on November 6, an extraordinary general meeting of the club voted on whether to extend membership to all nationalities and races. There was a majority in favour, reports The Times, but not the two-thirds majority that was needed for a change in the rules. However, a resolution was passed which will allow non-Europeans to be admitted as guests on 14 nights a year.
Later, the Accra Club was debated in the Gold Coast legislative Assembly. A private member asked the Assembly “to note with regret the existence in this country of certain institutions whose aims tend to foster racial prejudice and discrimination, and to register its view that such institutions are at variance with the desire of the people of this country to build up a society which is not based on race, colour or creed”. This motion was adopted unanimously.
After the debate, continues The Times correspondent at Accra, the Minister of Education said that the Government accepted the motion. However, since the Government believed in freedom of association, it did not think it right to prohibit by law even those clubs which were formed on a racial basis. At the same time, he said, the premises of the Accra Club were on land leased from the Government at a rental of one shilling (say, 0.67 Mauritian rupee) a year. This lease still had 37 years to run. The Government of the Gold Coast was considering whether the behaviour of the club, in restricting membership to people of European descent, was in accordance with the terms of the lease.
He ended by saying that “in any event, the Government could not consider people pursing a policy of racial segregation as suitable tenants of Government property”.
Here is a lesson for the Port Louis Town Council, and a lesson for the Mauritius Legislative Council.
The Champs de Mars, on which the race meetings are held, is leased from the municipality of Port Louis by the racing clubs. Yet as I showed in the Mauritius Times of August 24 (and my allegations have not been refuted by the clubs concerned), both the Turf Club and the Jockey Club pursue what are in practice policies of racial discrimination. Both clubs are the preserve of the wealthy minority. As such they cannot, in the words of the Gold Coast Minister of Education, be considered as suitable tenants of municipal, i.e. public, property. I hope the Labour majority on the Port Louis Town Council will scrutinize the terms on which the racing clubs lease the Champ de Mars to see whether the behaviour of the Turf and Jockey Clubs as regards membership is in accordance with these terms. Also, the Council should consider a motion such as that adopted by the Gold Coast Leg. Assembly. Then we would see who really are opposed to racial discrimination and who support it.
The Legislative Council too could well consider the question of racial discrimination. It occurs with regard to publicly-owned land: the golf course at Vacoas, which is the property of the military authorities. Although military property, this course is leased to the Mauritius Military Gymkhana, which restrict the use of the course to whites. Only a few months ago a distinguished Indian visitor to Mauritius, a golfer of ability, was refused permission to play over the course; he was given to understand that it was on account of his race that permission was refused. If he had been allowed to play, apparently, the wealthy minority (who had tided the Club over lean times in the past) would have stirred up trouble. So this distinguished Indian could not get his game of golf; for there are no public golf courses in Mauritius.
Can it be said, with any degree of honesty, that the Military Gymkhana, practising racial discrimination (for while the Indian was refused permission to play, the Australian jockeys who come to Mauritius to ride are allowed to be members of the Gymkhana), are suitable tenants of publicly-owned property?
The practice of racial discrimination is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations, and contrary to the teachings of Christ. In Mauritius, however, the wealthy minority discriminates against the coloured and Indian population, deigning to notice their existence only when they want something: votes at election time, for example, or strike-breakers, or cheap labour for the cane-fields. Treated as they are by the employing classes, the workers of Mauritius may well echo Ernest Jones’ Song of the Lower Classes:
“We plow and sow, we’re very very low,
We delve in the dirty clay;
We bless the plain with the golden grain
And the vale with the fragrant clay.
Our place we know, we’re very very low,
‘Tis down at the landlord’s feet;
We’re not too low the grain to grow,
But far too low the bread to eat.”
Ernest Jones was a Chartist leader of the nineteenth century, when the British working class was beginning to find its organised power. His stirring verses acted as a clarion to hundreds of thousands of workers who fully appreciated his bitter sarcasm. And thousands of Mauritians, who fought in the 8th Army and elsewhere is the last war, will remember what the war was fought for — to keep alive democracy and democratic government. But what has happened since the war? The same old anti-democratic set-up in Mauritius, with the Government’s appointments frustrating the will of the people. The men of Mauritius were not too low to fight for democracy, but the people have been classed as too low to have democracy in their own island! As Jones put it.
‘We’re low, we’re low, mere rabble, we know,
We’re only the rank and file;
We’re not too low to kill the foe,
But far too low to share the spoil.”
Workers the world over echo Jones’ words today as they echoed them a hundred years ago. But nowhere are they more true today than in colonies such as Mauritius, where the wealthy minority wield economic power and are not in the least prepared to suffer even the slightest loss of any of that power. The people’s elected representatives must, therefore, lose no opportunity of showing up the effects of the way in which those who control power make use of it; which is an added reason why I appeal to the Labour groups in the Legislative Council and the Port Louis Municipal Council to learn the lesson of the Gold Coast and translate that lesson into practice in Mauritius also.
3rd Year – No 121
Friday 30th November 1956
* Published in print edition on 14 June 2019