By Chit Dukhira
Born at Petite Rivière and whose father hailed from Calcutta (now Kolkata), Goolam Mahomed Issac (1872-1927) was involved in active politics, especially in the municipal affairs of Port- Louis.
Businessman, Planter & Industrialist
Upon his return from India, Issac was employed in commerce for some time before embarking upon his own business in 1905 at Corderie Street, Port Louis. Besides being a largescale importer of textile material, he exported ammonium sulphate. Soon afterwards, he became an important landowner, being the sole proprietor of the 935-acre Union Park Sugar Estate as well as the co-owner of sugar cane cultivations at Grande Retraite, Bon Air and Massillia. An industrialist too, he held valuable shares in the Union Society which manufactured about 20 tons of fibre every month at its factory, the aloe being supplied from its own estate.
Politics and Journalism
Issac adhered to the Action Libérale, a progressive political party founded by Dr Eugène Laurent and Anatole de Boucherville in 1906, which Manilal Doctor actively supported during his stay in Mauritius. He triumphed at his first electoral participation, becoming a municipal councillor in Ward 2 of the Capital in 1909. Until his death in 1927, he was returned at every municipal election of Port Louis. He served as Deputy Mayor of Port-Louis in 1911, 1912, 1915 and 1920.
In 1911, Issac occupied the mayor’s post during the absence from the country of the incumbent, Dr Eugène Laurent. He was the first non-Christian Deputy Mayor, and for some time acting Mayor, of Port Louis. For the municipal election of 10 December 1924, he circulated to the electors a four-page manifesto in French, promising to tackle such issues as municipal debts, cadastre, property rates, personnel, water and electric supply, finance, medical services for the poor and theatrical shows. He underlined therein that in 1920 he had counteracted the withdrawal from the Municipal Corporation of Port-Louis of 11 members following the decision of the government to take under its own responsibility various services ensured until then by the local body. Had it not been for his energetic determination not to quit, “la municipalité aurait été supprimée” (the council would have been abolished), he stressed.
Also in 1911, Issac was a candidate in the legislative elections in Rivière du Rempart. However, he withdrew in favour of Mérandon of the Action Libérale. Issac was also involved with the media. Having purchased in 1902 two newspaper presses, publishing the Journal de Maurice and Le Petit Journal, he later merged them into one under the title of Le Petit Journal until his death in 1927. For the municipal elections of 1912, Issac contributed considerably to the victory in Ward 4, Port-Louis, of Dr Edgar Laurent (later Sir) who had just set up his medical practice in the capital. Dr Edgar Laurent first became Mayor of Port Louis in 1920 and four times later until 1941. An elected legislator for the Capital during the period 1926-1948, he was later a nominee (1948-1953).
Issac was a founder, together with Dr Hassen Sakir, of the Société Fraternité Musulmane (Muslim Fraternal Society) which, having as motto “Unité et Progrès” (Unity and Progress), aimed at sensitising the country’s Muslims about education. He was an active member of the Surtee Sunnee Mussalman Society, which he chaired in 1914, and the Muslim Educational Society. A founder of both, he supported them in their religious and cultural pursuits, besides helping in the running of mosques, madrassas and primary schools.
Upon Issac’s initiative, a meeting was held at the municipal theatre of Port-Louis in 1911 when Italy had invaded Turkey whose Sultan was the Caliph of Islam. His motion was passed by the gathering for the British authorities to assist Turkey. An amount of Rs33,000 collected on the spot, was despatched to the Turkish Red Crescent. In 1914, the Sultan elevated Issac to the rank of ‘Officer of the Order of Mejidieh’. But, as a British subject, Issac later renounced the award when, in World War I (1914-1919), Turkey opposed the Allies which included the UK.
Son Gorah: Elected Councillor and Legislator
Issac’s son, Abdul Hamid Goolam Mahomed Issac (1910-1972), nicknamed Gorah (his pen name), an educationist and journalist, served as a member of the Municipal Council of Port-Louis from 1951 to 1963. He was also returned in 1959, again from the Capital, to the then Legislative Council, becoming the country’s first elected Surtee parliamentarian.
* Published in print edition on 3 June 2011