James Burty David
Fiery Defender of Labour-Party Faith
We mourn, with his family and friends, nationally and elsewhere, the passing away, at 63, of Dr James Burty David, secondary education Teacher and Principal, Preceptor, active member, variously President, Secretary General, and Director of Communication of the Mauritius Labour Party, and Minister notably at Education, and at Local Government.
He was, of course, not immune to the vagaries of national politics, with the latter’s rise and fall of popular majorities, or to the chequered destiny of his beloved party, towards which he remained steadfastly and intensely, loyal and in whose history he was passionately interested.
Political parties do change, otherwise they will not survive. The mechanics of those changes are no doubt, fascinating for outsiders. They, however, remain less than simple and straightforward, and less than comforting for insiders. Indeed, they are mostly difficult to accept, painful to bear and uncertain to resolve. Witness how the Labour Party in New Zealand moved dramatically to the right of the political spectrum while, for a while, the British Labour Party was to ‘out-Thatcher’ the Conservatives, before the latter began to swing more and more to the left of Labour.
James Burty David, seemingly ever youthful, was one of the few who made the transition as Mauritian Fabian socialism switch from ‘Old’ to ‘New’ Labour. He, like other stalwarts, did not find that paradigm shift an easy transition. No doubt, he and the others, had to deep-search their souls. Some went away never to return; others vacillated; he stayed, even exchanging heated views at times, yet never abandoning his chosen party. Such determination and courage are rare, in what is, after all, a fast changing world.
But then, that was also the resolute way of James Burty, devout and austere, yet with humour. Many believe in self-defense; few made such a sacrifice, so as to be literally, almost single-minded about it. At the other end of his spectrum of interests was his constant preoccupation in searching for perfection concerning historical evidence. Who with an active ministerial portfolio, would wonder about whether free education policy announced just prior to the 1976 general elections, was meant to cover ‘university education’? That James Burty did, only a few months ago. Therein lies a tale, one of passion, of perspicacity and of profound analysis, blending with one another, not only left-wing political programming, but also the necessity to convince the International Monetary Fund of the ‘political will’ of the Government of Mauritius to undertake unpopular measures, along with delicate adroit manoeuvring. There, in a nutshell, is the hallmark of an excellent academician.
And so now, it is time to take leave of him.
‘Absent in body, but present in spirit’
— Bible, 1 Corinthians v. 3.
To help all of us, as usual, if not indeed even more so.
Professor J. Manrakhan