Do we have poor people in Mauritius?  

By Lex

Points to Ponder

Simply by looking at the poor of yesterday, you could make out that that they were really poor: they had a hungry and haggard look, they were very poorly dressed in worn out and tatty clothes and their looks revealed their miserable state in life. 

The poor of today are quite different. They look well fed and well built; they look satisfied with their lot and you cannot distinguish a well-to-do Mauritian from one supposed to be poor. And the credit for this state of affairs can only go to the government.  However, I have a feeling that we do not have poor people in Mauritius if we were to go by what I saw. So why do the authorities as well as the opposition persist on calling those persons poor? Some Mauritians want to get everything free. They do not want to pay for the houses in which they reside; they say that the State owes them a house, with all the facilities. Maybe they will pay the rent or the instalment for a few months or a few years, and then they will just stop payment on the very good pretext that they are not working. 

Or they just leave the house they were renting after they are in arrears for maybe a year and look for a piece of unoccupied land on which to squat after having put up a small shack. In spite of the fact that they do not have a proper house and they are just squatting on somebody else’s property, yet that have all the latest gadgets like the latest mobile telephone; in their shack you will find the best television set with satellite receivers and what not, which even some of the so-called well-to-do cannot afford.

And those people spend all their money, that is when they have it, in eating and drinking until all the resources are exhausted, and then they say that they are poor. Should we call those people poor? Their culture is one of eating, drinking and making merry. And who pays at the end on the day? The common Mauritian who works hard, who saves every rupee that he can get, who buys a piece of land and builds his house, who looks after the education of his children, who pays for their private tuition, who spends his time with his family and who believes in progress in life, in his religion and in his culture in spite of all the odds.

If these hard working people are unhappy with the authorities because they are bent on spending so much of our resources on those supposed poor, should they be blamed? If the supposed poor were really poor, if they can understand that they must change their outlook and be more responsible towards themselves and their children, if they were to accept that education is the key to success, maybe a little help from the State would be understood by all Mauritians. But those supposed poor may not understand anything in life, but they do understand politics. They want everything from this government, in spite of their being against the government at crucial times: is this acceptable?

Of course there have always been some genuine poor in every society, like the sick and disabled and the elderly. These people do need all the assistance that the State can give, they are genuine and they deserve such assistance.

But we are more concerned here with the culture of poverty and this culture must be done away with and the fight must start now. The term ‘culture of poverty’ came from a study conducted by Oscar Lewis in 1961 on very poor Mexicans. The study bears the title of “The Children of Sanchez” and Oscar Lewis found that in order to cope with the helplessness and misery of their lives, the children had developed a set of values (that is a culture) which helped them to get through their daily lives. The culture stressed enjoying life today, as there was little chance of a decent future and to make the best of things as they were. But these very values prevented them from escaping their state of poverty. Why go to school or save any money, better to have fun now surely? So this type of culture does not allow them from getting out of their condition of supposed poverty. This is one strategy that some people develop for coping with poverty and that then never lets them get out of it.

If education would not have been free, if health care services would not have been free, if we would not have a comprehensive social security or if there would have been no non-contributory old age pension, maybe then we could have said that there are poor people in Mauritius. How much money does government spend on Mauritians for social services, for health care, for education, for free transport, for social security and for other services, all free? This should be added to the revenues of the supposed poor. As things stand, we cannot accept that there are so many poor persons here. Therefore it is surely a question of culture. The politicians cannot ask those people to adopt a different sort of culture. Maybe their religious groups and their priests can do the job. But I am afraid they will not do it, because it suits their purpose that they remain where they are. 

Shame on us!

A Second Point: What would you do if you were handed control over a budget of three hundred and fifty million rupees annually? If it would have been me, I would immediately build houses for the low income earners who can and are prepared to pay a reasonable rental for occupying such houses. I would make sure that those who fail to pay the required rent for one month vacate their allotted accommodation the following month and this condition should be very strict. I would use the remainder of the money to improve the water supply and the roads in the cities and in the countryside. And this policy would go on over the years.

Here I am talking of the budget of the Ministry of Youth and Sports. We are spending pointlessly such a vast amount of money. What are we getting in return? Nothing. Small countries like the Seychelles are doing far better than us. It is a shame on us, a bloody shame as one of my friends would say.

I do not mind repeating what I have said earlier: when you take part in a sporting event, you are there to win. Do not believe those who say that you are there to participate and not to win. This idea is not acceptable to me. If you have no hope of winning, then do not participate.

I am saying this in the wake of the Commonwealth Games that that have recently been held in New Delhi. Our athletes cannot be called athletes, they are simply des figurants. Mauritians are not made for athletic games, I wonder who has told them that they can run or swim or play table tennis or indulge in such activities which should be reserved for the Australians, the Europeans or for those from mainland Africa or from the Seychelles or from Malaysia or Singapore… Maybe those who say so have been given a lot of money to convince us Mauritians that our people are real sportsmen. We are the laughing stock, la risée of all the countries and yet we spend such huge amounts to take part in international events. We have no sense of shame. And all this has been done at the expense of taxpayers and those who have benefitted do not pay any tax on their income, from what I feel.

Those who want to take part in any sporting event should be encouraged to do so, but they should never depend on money from the State. The supposed athletes must use their own money for whatever they want to do. Then nobody will criticize them. Do they want the State to spend our resources to see them running or jumping, which can be considered as a source of pleasure for those running or jumping?

Just look at the very poor state in which our football is now. Compare the situation in the past and ask the Minister responsible how is it that we have sunk so low? In those days, most of the clubs on the mainland Africa, not to mention clubs in the Seychelles or Reunion or even Madagascar had a great respect for Mauritian football. These days, we are easily beaten by Senegal by seven goals to nil and we still have no shame.

Why is our football on the path of extinction? Because Paul Bérenger and the MMM have decided that the superb teams like the Hindu Cadets, the Muslims Scouts, the Dodos, the Racing and such clubs which were considered to be racist clubs and consequently were banned. When it was the question of playing against international teams, we proudly presented a good inter-communal local team to represent us. And we were doing well. For basely political reasons, this was not accepted by certain petty minded politicians.

After having nearly murdered our football, Paul Bérenger and the MMM are thinking of helping the Minister of Youth and Sports in the field of sports. I am afraid that the cure that the MMM will propose will be worse than the disease, it will simply kill all sports in the country. The Minister of Youth and Sports should beware of “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” (the Trojan priest Laocoön’s advice to his countrymen when the Greeks who had been besieging Troy for nine years pretended they were going away, leaving behind a magnificent wooden horse: “Fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts,” he told them. His advice went unheeded, and the Greeks came back and finished off Troy.)

In so far as our football is concerned, the MMM has put it in a straight-jacket. It is being controlled completely be the authorities and the independent small teams have no courage left to organize themselves. Moreover, Mauritians do not consider any team controlled by the State to be their team. The teams like the Hindu Cadets, the Muslim Scouts, the Dodo Club or the Racing Club have been made to give up their football games. Do Paul Bérenger and the MMM accept their responsibility in this matter? Does Devanand Rittoo accept that such a move has been at the root of where we are in football? 

Monkey business! 

A Third Point: Why is it that foreigners appreciate Mauritians so much? I do not mean Mauritian human beings only, I have in mind Mauritian monkeys as well. Our monkeys are as lovable as we human beings are, it seems. But we have as yet not grasped the purpose for which the monkeys are exported to different countries. The monkeys are perhaps sold to certain scientific laboratories apparently for research purposes. The monkeys are kept in prisons otherwise called cages, and this is done without the monkeys having committed any offence. This reminds me of the treatment inflicted to the slaves who were not considered as human beings but as the chattels and property of the owners of the slaves. The monkeys are likewise considered as the chattels and property of the owners.

I am dead against the killing of the monkeys for any reason whatsoever, especially as they cannot protest when they are captured from their natural habitat, when they are imprisoned in whatever condition it may be, when they are exported to foreign lands, when they undergo all sort of tests and finally they are murdered, or killed if you prefer.

I wonder who are the persons that are making big money in the business of selling and exporting our monkeys. I have been told that they are foreigners who employ a few Mauritians. What is the part played in this heinous transaction by the authorities, especially the Ministry of Agro-Industry? Even if the sellers of the monkeys pay a hundred dollars for each monkey exported, are we prepared to sell our soul even for a million dollars? Do some people understand the message that is to be found in the Ramayana? If you do, you should do everything to put an end to the treatment meted out to our monkeys. What does the Minister of Agro-Industry say? 

Which Bhojpuri?

A Fourth Point: At long last government has decided to introduce Bhojpuri in our school curriculum. Better late than never as they say. The question now is which Bhojpuri: the original Bhojpuri or the Creolized form? I have spoken to several persons who know the language inside out. Their opinion is, and I subscribe to it, that Bhojpuri is a language in its own right, with a rich vocabulary, with a proper grammar which makes the language well structured and with a vast literature.

Why is it that some persons have tried to introduce the Creolized form of Bhojpuri in our schools? The Ministry should go straight to the original Bhojpuri, get the books and other materials necessary to teach the children the language and get whatever help that is required from the Indian government or better still from the authorities in Patna in Bihar. I am sure they will be eager to help.

Why is it that our government has not requested the Indian government to give us about a dozen scholarship for undergraduate as well as postgraduate studies in Bhojpuri? In the meantime, our local Bhojpuri teachers can make do with whatever facilities that can be put at their disposal.

At long last, our language will be treated with the respect that it deserves, let us hope so. But we still have to travel the distance between the cup and the lips, and in certain circumstances, that is indeed a long distance, you know.

By the way, our Hindu friends who are of the Marathi-speaking group, the Telugu-speaking group and the Tamil-speaking group, and our Muslim friends and others who appreciate the Urdu language must be fully satisfied that they have a channel on our television in their own language. The government as well as the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation have given satisfaction to the different section of our people.

However, the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation must have a better look at the channel catering for the Hindi-speaking group. There are some programmes in Hindustani, which is quite distinct from Hindi. The Hindi-speaking group deserves a channel in Hindi. This can be done with a little bit of help. How is it that the MBC has forgotten about a Hindi channel? Maybe those who should advise have confused between Hindustani and Hindi? Maybe they do not understand anything about languages and culture. They have to be blamed.

And then of course we must have a channel in Bhojpuri, with programmes that can be received from India, with little cost to the MBC. As this language will be in our school curriculum, it is but reasonable that our children be exposed to the language as it should be spoken.

The MBC should also introduce a channel in Creole especially for the same reason that Bhojpuri should be introduced, that is to help the students. But I am afraid that for Creole, all the programmes should be prepared locally as there is no country in the world where our type of Creole is used. Even the Creole of Seychelles is different from our Creole. The MBC has a long way to go in order to give satisfaction to all our citizens.

* Published in print edition on 29 October 2010

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