Meanwhile there are surely many things, small in themselves, but all adding up to amelioration of the workers’ lot, which the Government can undertake. Low wages have led to a monotonous diet. Why not an organised effort to raise nutritional standards by encouraging all communities to adopt new, varied diets and improved methods of cooking and treating food? Why not an effort to grow cheap vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes by helping small growers to get out of the clutches of rapacious moneylenders and landlords? If the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund can lend one and a half million rupees free of interest to the sugar producers to build houses, there is no reason why the Government should not make loans free of interest for productive purposes which will help the people as a whole instead of merely a group of wealthy employers.
Asphalting of Motorway at Coleville Bridge – Mont Ory – Mauritius – 1962 (Courtesy: Chris Pearce)
General legislation to curb the activities of moneylenders is socially necessary. So is action to stop people renting Crown Lands at the controlled rent of Rs 17.46 an acre and sub-letting it to vegetable growers at anything up to Rs 400.00 an acre.
The scale of relief afforded by the Public Assistance Department must be extended. Cash payments, free meals and clothing and rent assistance are the minimum that should be given to the poor, aged or destitute. Public restaurants could be provided to serve free meals to the sick, aged, unemployed and destitute, as well as to schoolchildren. There is no reason why working centres, such as were a great success in post-war Malaya, should not be set up for destitute persons to be given vocational training. Such working centres could easily develop into co-operative communities growing their own vegetables for sale.
Essential foodstuffs are too expensive. How can the prices be reduced? First, by close and careful investigation into the conduct and operation of the commodity markets. Most food has to be imported; an investigation would not therefore be too difficult, Second, if such an investigation showed what some importers claim, that the retail prices of foodstuffs are not too high bearing in mind the price actually paid by the importer to the producer, then food subsidies are the answer; the Government must contribute to the selling price of the commodity so that it can be sold more cheaply. By restricting the subsidies to the essential foods, the poor would benefit more than the wealthy – for essential foodstuffs form the bulk of the food bought by the poor, but only a small part of the food bought by the wealthy.
In the field of education, the people are expecting great things. They must not be disappointed. More facilities for secondary education must be provided. Technical education must not be neglected. Free compulsory primary education must be introduced. A five-year educational development plan should be drawn up, to be put fully into operation during the five years July 1958 to 1963. This plan should include primary education for all, more secondary education, technical education, and mass literacy campaigns to eradicate illiteracy among adults. And once and for all, the nettle must be grasped firmly – the language problem must be settled. One language, and one language only, must be taught throughout the primary schools as a compulsory subject; one language only should be an examination subject in the secondary schools scholarship examination. That one language, since Mauritius is a British colony, should obviously be English. Private primary schools should be abolished; only Government and aided primary schools should be allowed to continue. As the Government and aided system of secondary schools expands, private secondary schools should be abolished. Temporarily a system of inspection and registration of private secondary schools is needed.
Inter-racial co-operation may be difficult to achieve. There are too many vested interests at present concerned in setting race against race, community against community, religion against religion. Agents provocateurs stirred up a small-scale riot at Chemin Grenier. The dock strike last September was marked by attempts by the employers to break the strike by bringing into Port Louis lorry-loads of Indian labourers; since the striking dockers were mainly coloured, this was a blatant attempt at racial antagonisation. The Ralliement Mauricien has agents who go about the island trying to stir up hatred between Creole and Indian, between Hindu and Moslem. There have been boycotts of Hindu traders by Moslem shoppers; of Moslem traders by Hindu shoppers. These boycotts have been deliberately engineered by persons who hope to gain political advantage from inter-racial strife. Anyone being duped by such evil-minded persons is endangering the safely and future of Mauritius. These persons, agents of the Ralliement, go about their dirty work in various devious ways: handbills given out in the street or placarded for people to read; letters to the editors of the right-wing press; and so on. Instead of these activities, which all act against the eventual emergence of a spirit of pan-Mauritian consciousness, we should be fostering the development of inter-racial co-operation. This can be done by government-sponsored and government-encouraged community development. The Civil Commissioners can be the agents in this, provided that they live in a part of their district easily accessible to all other parts, not selected simply for its social convenience and amenity. Many villages already have village councils and community centres; but youth organisations in particular need developing. These activities call for active co-operation and initiative from the public. They are a base on which further community work can be built. A Rural Development Authority could be set up; its duty would be to promote rural development, and through this inter-racial co-operation, by fostering the principle of self-help as well as by providing grants, loans and technical aid. Development projects would include contributions to the improvement of agriculture and fisheries, to improve means of communication, co-operative farming or cow-keeping, etc. Self-help is fostered in this way: if a village wants its street repairing or making up, the RDA would provide the materials and technical advice, but the village must provide the labour to do the work.
Housing and the fight against TB are urgent problems. In the towns, especially Port Louis, there are slum areas which are hotbeds of disease and squalor. They must be cleared and the people rehoused. Private enterprise is not interested in the provision of cheap dwellings, so the government must step in, either directly or by actively encouraging the municipality and town councils. Co-operative building societies must be encouraged to help people to buy their own houses. Anti-TB measures must be expanded: UNICEF and WHO must provide more help than at present. Improved housing and nutrition are, of course, the two things which would do more than anything else to get rid of TB.
Vast problems face the ministers. The colonial regime has abdicated from Mauritius at a time when, as never before, grave problems have to be settled. Settlement will not be easy. It will call for a high degree of co-operation by people of all races and communities. It will call for a great degree of patience and toleration by everyone. If the ministers are seen to be acting in the people’s interest, then they will have the people’s support. The problems are not insuperable; but they call for bold measures. The motto now is: Go To It!