A second citizens march took place at Mahebourg on Saturday last. While the crowd was sizeable, it was nevertheless about half or perhaps even less than half of the size the organizers had reckoned the first march at Port Louis on 29 August had gathered, namely 100,000 to 123,000. It would be recalled that it was the Wakashio incident that had triggered the first protest, to which were tagged the ongoing or rather chronic issues of alleged corruption, drug trafficking, nepotism, etc. It may also be pointed out that this event was inspired by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that had started in the USA, which itself was followed by similar movements in a few capital cities around the world to finally be restricted to the USA itself.
The reason for its persistence there has got to do with the very founding of the USA, when Africans were brought in as slaves to work in the cotton fields in the south of the country. Even after their liberation, and despite the success of many of their descendants in the field of sports, music and entertainment, they have faced what is acknowledged as being ‘institutionalised racism’, with discrimination against them that still exists – such as segregation in buses or schools, targeting by police – the elimination of which is an ongoing struggle. A similar situation of discrimination on racial and colour basis still prevails in some countries in South America, especially where the political systems were non-democratic, and that was part of the reason for the emergence of liberation theology. It faced twin enemies: colour discrimination and political repression, both of which along with corruption, drugs have tended to marginalize sections of their population.
One cannot draw parallels with the local situation post-independence because of the guarantee of equal human rights to all citizens enshrined in the constitution. That there are some sections of the population which find themselves in situations of difficulty is an undeniable fact, and poverty is not limited to one community, despite facilities that are extended to all by the government, as was pointed out by Cardinal Piat on the occasion of the Pere Laval pilgrimage. He also drew attention to how their former owners – the plantocracy – had abandoned the slaves to themselves after their liberation, and how Pere Laval came to their rescue by preaching among them and encouraging them to build their own chapels, for example, because the oligarchy – which also controlled the government – would not allow them in the Cathedral.
The government was named by the Cardinal as having the responsibility to provide for the poor and vulnerable. It goes without saying that any government can only do that in an equitable manner, through a legal framework that is common to all and through facilities and benefits that extend to all equally – otherwise other groups could justifiably accuse it of discrimination. However, here is where the responsibility of civil society and of religious bodies come in. As we have seen elsewhere, in formerly apartheid South Africa and in the USA where the Black-White racial polarization is so entrenched, laws will never be sufficient to lift people. These have to be supplemented by the inculcation of virtues and values of sacrifice at the personal and family level, of perseverance, thrift and hard work, because as the saying goes ‘Rome was not built in a day’. Social evolution and personal advancement is not only a matter of structural and infrastructural facilities – which is the role of government – but also of cultural and religious teachings.
In other words, uplifting the community is a shared responsibility among several players, amongst which government is only one, the prime player being the individual, inspired by such luminaries as Pere Laval – or his modern representatives. There’s many a lesson to retain from the life and struggle of Pere Laval in favour of the poor, and all – politicians and preachers — would do well to learn therefrom and act according to the roles expected of them respectively.
* Published in print edition on 15 September 2020