1968-2018 and, now, the next 50 years
Half a century ago, on the 12th March 1968, the Union Jack was lowered at the Champ de Mars and the Mauritian flag hoisted on the flag post to mark the independence of Mauritius, and since then the ritual of our National Day there has been repeated annually and officially, as well as in many institutions.
As the years go by, new generations, different from the past ones, will give and add new meanings to our National Day, free from the bias and prejudices of yesterday’s generations. Independence day will remain a joyful event generating a lot of excitement, a tradition to respect, celebrated with great spontaneity and enthusiasm, yet perhaps with neither pride nor shame, simply the major historical event in our country’s history
Such an approach has the advantage of consolidating the unity of the country as the younger generations take up the torch to chart their common future. Maybe a relatively detached view of our Independence Day may sound heretical to many who regularly mount on the rooftops, for a variety of reasons, to appeal for patriotism among the young.
Viewing Independence Day as a non-controversial event by the young may come closer to a historian’s approach to the past where history is history, a past that the present and the future generations did not help to shape nor had any say in its making.
However, one should not confuse a detached view with amnesia about our history. In fact we have consistently pleaded and leave no stone unturned for history to be a distinctive discipline in our educational system, not be replaced by the mishmash that goes under the name of social studies or environmental studies. A study of history, and not only our own history, contributes to a person’s general education and equips him with critical thinking so crucial for our day-to-day decision-making and for the development of an autonomous personality.
At this moment, we may still be at the beginning of a new phase in the development of our nationhood, but we are not there yet. Fifty years is too short in the history of a country. A shrinking generation that voted for or against independence is still around. They voted in a particular context and in the light of their own wisdom what they then considered to be in their best interests.
Anyone born before the 1960s too has memories of his or her parents’ and grandparents’ involvement in the struggle to make or not to make Mauritius independent. Such memories make us participants in the events of 1967 and 1968, and cannot, except in exceptional cases, provide us with an objective appreciation of these momentous years.
Nevertheless, 1968 remains the major event in our history, the major turning point which ushered in a period of creative experimentation to construct a new and modern nation. Diversification of the economy for industrialization to take off, militant trade unionism, radical nationalism of one kind or another, construction of a welfare state were high on the agenda.
Political contestation, repression of various kinds, managing and consolidation of the post-colonial state and dabbling with socialist and political ideologies of various stripes and consolidating the democratic ethos have occupied the minds and informed the actions of past generations.
Yet in 1968 and after, despite idealism and utopianism, pragmatism always won the day. We did not turn our back to history nor did we throw the baby out with the bath water. We took over the liberal institutions of the past, gave them new meanings and a fresh orientation in consonance with the deep aspirations of the people.
We made mistakes but also learnt from them. We dominated and discriminated against each other on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity, religion and culture and we still do. We are also conscious that we come from different places, interbreed, play, work together and help to make the country progress for one and all despite our identities, multiple and complex, yet within the wider framework of a Mauritian identity.
Finally all that we achieve was inscribed in an evolutionary process of our society. Change has always been incremental, gradualist, never revolutionary, in line with the evolution of the country during the last 250 years or more, but inexorably driven by our aspirations for more freedom and social justice.
At 50, Mauritius has rid itself of a number of inferiority complexes, though not all, is more mature, more confident and has an enhanced capacity to chart its destiny for the next fifty years. One can expect and hope that it will surpass the achievements of the last fifty years but at a much faster speed that we are used to.
The challenges of the future will even be more daunting than what we have so far known. Science has already taken control over our lives – not a bad thing in some respects. Machines monitor our health, provide the solutions and execute them. On the other hand, there will be jobless growth and we do not know what to do if people are left without gainful employment.
Even now we have no clue about what the future jobs will be like for our grandchildren. For someone born today, we do know what jobs will be available in 30 or 40 years, and what skills and competencies will be required or what kind of education system we should set in place to prepare for the future.
The only thing we know is that we have to keep on learning throughout life and only a workforce on the edge of technology will be better able to meet the challenges ahead. In our own country, assuming that we will always need the 1% of our most talented people to drive innovation, can we progress with only 120 people when the number of births annually turns around 12,000? What about our food security, our water needs, our environment? These are a few of our present worries.
When a seventy-year old complained of some of the difficulties he is currently facing, he was reassured by his friend that – ‘we are still better off today, think of our grandchildren, we do not know what kind of food they will eat, what environment they will live in, the air they will breathe or the diseases they will suffer from. Will they lose their humanity to the machines or will they strike a judicious balance between man and nature, humanity and science?’
That is to say that, at 50, Mauritius must do some very hard thinking and plan for the future — for Mauritius is where our grandchildren will live, work and die.
* Published in print edition on 12 Ocotober 2018