A Renewed Call for Social Justice


Reflections on the 189th Anniversary of Slavery Abolition

As Mauritius has commemorated the 189th anniversary of the abolition of slavery this week, it is imperative to reflect on the strides made towards truth and justice. The establishment of the Truth and Justice Commission (TJC) in April 2008 marked a significant step in investigating the historical injustices of slavery and indentured labour during colonial times. It’s worth remembering that the institution of the Commission itself upset some quarters, as confirmed by historian Vijaya Teelock, who was one of its members.

In an earlier interview to this paper, she stated: ‘We cannot reverse history, but we could at least have started implementing recommendations had the Truth and Justice Commission continued to carry on its work. But it was clear we had upset many people, and many wanted it shut down as soon as possible at the time. The proof is the almost immediate closure of access by public to the documents they require to build up their case. Who gave the orders at that time to shut down and block access and not even submit all 6 reports to the National Assembly? Why were the 100 copies printed never distributed to the public libraries and other institutions?’

Nevertheless, the TJC’s report prompted discussions on the actions the government should take in response to its recommendations. While the report is voluminous and warrants careful examination, there was a collective hope that implementable measures would be pursued, particularly those aimed at improving the lives of those affected.

Acknowledging that not all recommendations may to this day be practical to implement, the government’s focus on actionable items that can make a tangible difference is crucial. Already, steps have been taken in line with some of the Commission’s suggestions. The introduction of the Equal Opportunities Act has been a significant stride towards fostering fair social justice in Mauritius.

However, the expectation of monetary compensations for descendants of slaves has been met with complexities. The Commission unearthed evidence of atrocities committed by the Church, the Chamber of Commerce, and the sugar industry, calling for public apologies. Yet, the response has been hesitant, with representatives using spokespersons to address the issue. The Commission refrained from recommending direct monetary compensations due to identification challenges in tracing descendants. While acknowledging the impracticality of pinpointing guilty parties, it emphasized the enduring moral and physical damage inflicted by historical slavery and indentured labour practices.

The Commission extended its call for justice to the colonial governments of Holland, France, and Britain, urging them to apologize for their roles in perpetuating inhuman practices. Importantly, these countries were also urged to provide material support for initiatives that directly enhance living conditions and social opportunities for the descendants of slaves and indentured labourers in Mauritius. This aligns with the broader goal of implementing a system of “social justice for all.”

The task of restoring decent living conditions to affected communities necessitates empowering them through various means. This involves improved housing conditions and access to specialized technical training, and the contributions of some government agencies remain pivotal in translating these recommendations into tangible actions that uplift the socio-economic status of those historically marginalized.

One glaring issue highlighted by the Commission is and remains to this day the absence of dedicated leadership, particularly at the grassroots level. Leadership, extending beyond the political or ecclesiastical realms, must permeate the family unit, serving as the nucleus for cultivating enduring values. The family’s role in shaping the future, guiding children purposefully and instilling discipline has to be emphasized. While government influence is indirect at this micro-level, individuals’ direct efforts become essential for societal development.

Challenges persist, and some affected communities face obstacles in overcoming the lingering effects of historical exploitation. The need for a dedicated leadership that transcends political and ecclesiastical spheres is as valid today as ever. Families must serve as bastions of support, guiding the new generation towards a future where barriers are broken. A micro-level focus on adaptation and self-improvement is crucial for development.

As Mauritius reflects on the 189th anniversary of slavery abolition, the Truth, and Justice Commission’s report, which brought to light the enduring impact of historical injustices, has to be revisited. Its call for truth, justice, and social empowerment resonates not only with affected communities but with the broader vision of a Mauritius that embraces social justice for all. It is through tangible actions, focused leadership, and an unwavering commitment to uplift marginalized communities that the island nation can truly embody well-being and prosperity for all its citizens.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 2 February 2024

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