A Letter from London

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

During the day of Seeneevassen’s death, and all through the following night, people gathered at his place and in nearby streets to pay a last tribute to a great political figure, a pillar of the Mauritius Labour Party, and an architect of the future Mauritius. The day of his cremation was unprecedented; people had thought that the scenes on the day of the beloved Guy Rozemont’s funeral would never be equalled, but on the day of Hon Seeneevassen’s cremation, these scenes were repeated.

People came from all corners of Mauritius, and in unprecedented numbers. So many people were outside Hon Seeneevassen’s place and in nearby Labourdonnais Street that it seemed to be a big army. All along Labourdonnais Street, Desforges Street, Pamplemousses Street, there were huge crowds, on both sides, on house tops, on balconies. Truly colossal!

The People’s desire to do a last homage to a beloved and lamented leader was notable. Once again, they demonstrated their love and affection for a man who, like Guy Rozemont, had won a place in their hearts through his desire and his attempts to do something for them. Thousands attended the funeral of Guy Rozemont; thousands flocked to the cremation of Hon Seeneevassen. By flocking to Hon Seeneevassen’s cremation in such vast numbers, the People of Mauritius, the underpaid, underfed, underprivileged, often unemployed people of Mauritius, showed the depth of their affection for a great man whose loss is a tragic blow for the well-being of those people’s future.

Certain members and supporters of the Parti Mauricien (PM) lost no time in making political capital out of Hon Seeneevassen’s death. With his eyes on the possibility of a by-election in Port Louis, one prominent PM supporter, previously defeated in a by-election, got his propagandists at work on the very day that Hon Seeneevassen died! These propagandists were busy talking against the possible Labour candidate (Mr Eddy Changkye’s name was mentioned) in the by-election, should one be held. And some PM supporters or sympathisers protested at the flag being flown half-mast, on the day of Hon Seeneevassen’s death, at the newly-opened Parti Mauricien social centre in Du Pouce Street! The protest was on the grounds that Mr Seeneevassen was a member of the Labour Party, and the social centre was being run by the Labour Party’s opponents! Yet the social centre is supposed to be non-political and free from racial or credal discrimination.

It is a fact that the death of Hon Seeneevassen is a sad loss to the Labour Party. He was an asset who will be hard to replace. Yet he must be replaced; the Labour Party must not falter in its task of gaining for the people of Mauritius not just a place in the sun, but the sun itself. Typical of the task that confronts the Labour Party when it comes to power — as come it surely will — is a scene that can be observed almost any day at supper-time in almost any of the little hôtel du thé in Port Louis. At supper-time, you will see the beggars in these hôtels, buying their modest suppers out of the proceeds of their day’s begging: usually a piece of bread and a glass of tea is all they can afford to buy. On a good day, perhaps a gâteau piment will accompany the bread and tea; but more often than not just bread and tea have to suffice for the evening meal. And many of the destitute beggars carry around with them all their worldly possessions: a few sheets of brown wrapping paper to serve as a bed, and the rags they are wearing. That — rags and brown paper — forms the sum of the worldly possessions of more than one inhabitant of an island which, officially, ranks as a “prosperous” colony where “life is gay and the people carefree” and of which legend says “God made Mauritius first, Paradise second.”

This illusion of the prosperity of Mauritius is fostered by a selection of pictures of Mauritius occupying two pages (the centre-page spread) of the June issue of the Times British Colonies Review. There are 10 pictures in all, of varying sizes. The largest is an aerial photograph of Port Louis and its harbour; the smallest is of the statue of Labourdonnais.

Others show Sir Robert Scott opening the Legislative Council; an Indo-Mauritian woman leading a bullock-cart in a cane field; Indian women walking towards a mobile cinema van; buses and cars on “The main road from Port Louis”; students in class at the College of Horticulture; a large hut at Rivière Noire being thatched with palm leaves by, says the caption, “Creoles”; a “Chinese boy window-shopping in Port Louis” (he is looking at shelves full of cups and saucers, plates, pots and pans in a shop window); and finally, “Modern houses for workers on the Belle Vue sugar estate”.

In this latter we see a house which looks as though it has been built of concrete; it has its own garden with a clothes line which is full of washing hanging out to dry; and a man is riding a bicycle away from it. Very different is this house from the squalid hutments in the island’s backyards in which by far the great majority of the island’s people have to live. To be fair, and to have given a balanced picture of Mauritius, the Times Review ought properly to have included at least one picture of a shanty built of petrol cans and roofed with straw and dung; for such is the living accommodation of many Mauritians.

Only the Labour Party will do anything to better those living conditions. The capitalists’ party, the Parti Mauricien, will do nothing beyond safeguarding the profits accruing to its members and supporters. And to achieve its goal of a Council majority after the general elections, which surely cannot be long postposed (until the crop season is finished, perhaps?), the Parti Mauricien is indulging in much and varied propaganda. One favourite practice, an especial in the Labour stronghold of Ward IV in Port Louis, is to open social centres.

Officially these centres are non-political (I have referred to the one in Du Pouce Street) and open to all races; but those who use them are constantly reminded that it is PM money and organisation which have provided them. One wonders where all the money comes from which the PM is spending on propaganda in one form or another… perhaps Mr Wilson will find out in his campaign against the tax dodgers!

While Mr Wilson and his colleagues are looking for secondary crops and industries to reduce Mauritian dependence on sugar, will he cast an eye at the encouragement of nutmeg-growing? The nutmeg was introduced into Mauritius is 1769 but is not commercially exploited. However, there is a world shortage of nutmeg; Grenada (West Indies) has a virtual monopoly and the plantations underwent a battering in a disastrous hurricane in 1955. Replanting will ensure the eventual restoration of all the plantations, but the nutmeg takes 6 years to bear fruit, and 16 years to become a commercial proposition. But as a long-term policy, the encouragement of nutmeg planting and growing would seem to bear looking into, for high prices will persist for many years to come.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 9 September 2022

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