Les Iles-Soeur

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

The Francomaniac press has for some time been publishing the programmes of Radio St Denis; and at least one reporter on Le Cernéen listens to the news bulletins from the radio dyonisienne. It seems that Hon. Sauzier’s letter to the Times, which appeared on March 12, was the subject of a news item in the morning newscast from Radio St Denis on March 13. One wonders what interest there is for the people of Reunion in comments on constitutional development in Mauritius. And equally one wonders what interest there is for the people of Mauritius in the emissions of Radio St Denis… the action of the Francomaniac press in publishing the Reunion radio programmes is equivalent to the Daily Worker in England publishing the English-language programmes of Radio Moscow.

Instead of broadcasting about reactionary Mauritian’s animadversions on the report of the Electoral Boundary Commission, Radio St Denis could perform a valuable service in broadcasting, instead, details about life in Reunion. For Reunion, l’île soeur, is an overseas department of France, and if we look at conditions in that island we can judge for ourselves what life would be like in Mauritius if Mauritius were still a French colony (or overseas department). And we can see, too, the fruits of French colonialism and the results of 300 years of French rule in Reunion.

But first let us turn to the testimony of the French periodical Démocratie Nouvelle of May 1955. We read that the aim of French colonialism is a mission civilisatrice, aimed at transforming arabes, berbères, noirs, jaunes, en autant de Français de langue et de culture, égaux en tout à leurs concitoyens de la métropole. But French capitalism has never accepted or put into operation this doctrine except in so far as it has been necessary to train a local elite to carry on the local administration. The capitalists ont toujours farouchement limité la diffusion de l’instruction et l’octroi des droits, qui les auraient privés de la possibilité d’exploiter à vil prix le travail des populations dont le niveau de vie misérable, l’ignorance et la dépendance permettaient les bas salaires.

These criticisms, made by Jean-Maurice Hermann in the periodical referred to, lead to the conclusion that France would cut a better figure in the world si elle avait offert aux pays d’outre-mer des instituteurs, des médecins, des ingénieurs plutôt que des parachutistes et des gendarmes. And Hermann alleges that France has not applied the principles of equality, but the principles du racisme et de la terreur policière.
Certainly Madagascar has suffered la terreur policière; 700,000 died in the Malgache repression eleven years ago, and that island still awaits economic development and political rights. (It is said that the deficiency of meat exports from Madagascar to Mauritius has its origins in an economic link-up between Malgache and Mauritian capitalists who are using Mauritian reliance on imported meat as a political weapon). And although Reunion may have escaped the terreur policière, it certainly suffers from a shortage of teachers and doctors; and it has suffered a denial of rights.

I turn to the January 1958 issue of the Paris periodical Les Cahiers du Progressisme in which a brief article refers to the matters A la Réunion. It begins by referring to the legislative elections last November: c’est M. Cerneau qui a été élu contre Jean Hinglo, candidat républicain progressiste… ces élections, entachées de fraudes graves, ont abouti à une véritable suppression du suffrage universel.
The article also details certain aspects of normal life in Reunion — which is, remember, an overseas department of France, and all the Reunionnais are therefore, in legal theory, equal to the inhabitants of metropolitan France. Says the article: le travailleur perçoit des allocations familiales cinq fois plus faibles que celles du travailleur en France, on du fonctionnaire en service dans l’île. (This underlines the criticism made in Démocratie Nouvelle relating to the training of a local elite). But, the Reunionnais fonctionnaire enjoys conditions of service inferior à celles de son collègue de même grade venant de l’extérieur. Other facts of life in the outpost of France in the Indian ocean are that 40% des jeunes appélés soient reformés pour déficience physique; il y ait 25,000 tuberculeux pour 300,000 habitants, soit 1 tuberculeux sur 12 Réunionais; il y ait 11,000 chômeurs sur 70,000 salariés.

Our Francomaniacs will be sure to retort that conditions in Mauritius are not much better. If they do so, they can be told that it is up to them to help the Government to redress the evils of malnutrition, low wages and squalid housing conditions; they can be told that they can give active support to the Government to introduce unemployment allowances; they can be told that they must be prepared to pay higher taxes to help the poor and unfortunate of Mauritius.

On the other hand, perhaps, the Francomaniacs will not say that conditions in Mauritius are not much better than in Reunion. If they do not compare Mauritius favourably with Reunion, it will be because they know that conditions for the people of Mauritius are bad — in which case we can still say to them “Co-operate with the Government to introduce unemployment allowances, to redress the evils of low wages, poor housing and malnutrition, and to provide for the cost of all this social amelioration by paying higher taxes and by not exporting your profits to South Africa.”

How, in fact, do Mauritius and Reunion compare in certain aspects for which comparable statistics are available? Let us see if the criticism is vaIid that France has not sent teachers and doctors to her overseas possessions, whether colonies or departments.
In Reunion, in 1949, there was one bed for every 280 inhabitants. By 1952, the number had fallen to 220 per bed. In Mauritius, on the other hand, there was one bed for every 210 inhabitants in 1949 and as low as 135 in 1952. In France, in 1952, there was one bed for every 65 inhabitants only.
In France in 1954 there was 1 doctor to every 1100 persons. In Reunion, in 1953, however, there was 1 doctor to every 5300 persons. This was, I will admit, much better than five years earlier, when there was only 1 doctor to as many as 20,000 persons; and in this matter of doctors, Reunion is slightly better-off than Mauritius; for in Mauritius there was 1 doctor to 5900 persons in 1954 — slightly worse than in 1949 when there was 1 doctor to 5400 persons.
Mauritius has a lower proportion of its total population at school than has Reunion; but whereas the school-going proportion of the population rose in Mauritius between 1950 and 1954, in Reunion the school-going proportion of the population fell. And using 1954 figures again, while in Mauritius there were 33 pupils to each primary school teacher, in Reunion there were 42 pupils per teacher. In 1954, too, there were 48 Mauritians in every 100,000 of population enrolled at institutions of higher education; but for Reunion, this information is “not available”. Dare we suggest that it is not available because it is discreditably low?
All the foregoing statistics come from a very reliable source: Report on the World Social Situation prepared by the Bureau of Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat and published by the United Nations in April 1957.

For a last statistical comparison between Mauritius and Reunion, I turn to a UNESCO publication, World Illiteracy at Mid-Century, published in Paris in French and in English editions late in 1957. From this invaluable book we learn that illiteracy among the adults of Reunion was 60.6% of the adult population; but in Mauritius the illiteracy rate among adults was lower, at 45-50%. The Report on the World Social Situation gives an illiteracy rate of 51.8% for Mauritius at the 1952 census.

Little in these comparisons reflects credit on the French administration of the overseas department of Reunion Little in them suggests that Radio St Denis, or the administration of the island, can afford the time to meddle in the affairs of Mauritius. Instead of commenting on a matter which is an internal affair of the Mauritian people, Radio St Denis should be first putting its own house in order. When illiteracy has been eliminated in Reunion; when TB has disappeared; when the 11,000 workless are in work; when educational and medical facilities are equal to those in Mauritius; and when there is equality in fact as well as in practice between the Reunionais and the expatriate Frenchman — then will be time that Mauritians will gladly permit Radio St Denis to poke its nose into their affairs. Until then, Radio St Denis can mind its own business, and leave Mauritius to mind its.

And until then the Francomaniac press would be better advised to leave off publishing the Reunion wireless programmes.

5th Year – No 192
Friday 11th April, 1958


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