A Lesson for NMU and Others

MT 60 years – 2nd YEAR NO. 28 – Friday 18th February 1955

Unity is Strength

It is no duty of a newspaper to mislead its readers; it is the duty of a newspaper to ensure that its facts and opinions are accurate. But what do we find in Le Cernéen? So eager is Le Cernéen to allege that the Mauritius Labour Party is Communist-controlled that it disregards the normal canons of civilized disputation and argument, and indulges regularly in splenetic outbursts whose immoderate racial hatred is matched only by their intemperate language. And with his fanaticism, NMU, like his henchmen Ramses and George Sylvain, loses sight of the need for accuracy.

Malicious writings or negligent sub-editing?

What do we read in Le Cernéen of 24.11.54? In his Opinion du Jour, NMU declares “Voilà donc le Dr Ramgoolam qui invite les travailleurs mauriciens à imiter les dockers communistes français qui ont refusé de charger des armes et des munitions pour les troupes d’Indo-Chine, ainsi que les dockers anglais qui, en une autre occasion, avaient eu une attitude analogue.’ (italics are mine) The next day, George Sylvain wrote in Le Cernéen that “…le Dr Ramgoolam, Communiste, a proposé comme exemple aux travailleurs mauriciens l’action des Communistes français refusant de charger des armes pour les armées françaises se battant en Indo-Chine… »

But what had this become by December 7? I quote George Sylvain again: « N’a-t-on pas entendu le Dr Ramgoolam recommander aux travailleurs de Maurice de suivre l’exemple des Communistes français et anglais dans certaines circonstances ? »

The transition from the explicit distinction between « French-communist dockers » and ‘English dockers’ (24.11.54) to « French and English communists” (7.12.54) shows either willfully malicious writing, or culpably negligent sub-editing.

Jolly Roger Idyll

In any case, what was the event to which Dr Ramgoolam was referring, when English dockers refused to load arms for the war of intervention in Russia? It happened in 1920, on May 10 to be exact. English  dockers refused to load arms, for use in Poland against the armies of the infant Soviet Union, on to the S.S. Jolly Roger. Their refusal was a spontaneous stoppage of work immediately they noticed that munitions were among the cargo being loaded on to the ship. The Dockers’ Union supported the men’s action.

What followed shows that the men’s action cannot be classed as a Communist-inspired strike. The Labour Party and Trades Union Congress sponsored the Hands off Russia movement, whose aim was to stop the British government’s illicit war of intervention against Russia. In July 1920, the T.U.C. Congress voted for a general strike to bring an end to this war as well as to the Government’s other illicit war, against the Sinn Fein in Ireland. The organised might of the workers was behind the TUC and the strike call; the press and political circles had tried to prepare the country for a declaration of war on Soviets, but the industrial action threatened by the organised Labour Movement compelled the Government to think again. Such a situation had not happened for centuries: the Government retracing an unpopular policy because of great and spontaneous opposition from the country’s workers. That the British Government was powerless against the threat of Industrial action was admitted in World Crisis: the Aftermath where Churchill attributed the leadership of the opposition to the British Labour Party.

Unity is Strength

Perhaps NMU and Sylvain knew the facts of the Jolly Roger and Hands off Russia episodes. If so, Sylvain’s article of 7.12.54 was even more culpable. If however they didn’t know the facts, then it were better that they didn’t parade their ignorance.

Apart from the facts that the history of the episodes must be recounted to show the falsity of Sylvain’s “L’exemple des Communistes français et anglais…”, this history has a valuable lesson which should never be forgotten. It illustrates the power of the organised working-class; the power of the organised Labour Movement when it is united solidly behind its leaders and is not diverted by the shrill cries of those whose only interest in the workers is to sow suspicion and – dissension, within their ranks. By creating suspicion and dissension, the capitalists and imperialists hold on to their power; but a united working-class will shake off the rulers’ shackles.

So let not the splendid example of the united working-class achievement of 1920 be disregarded. United is strength; that is what workers of 1920 proved. Let us today not forget their lesson.

* * *

A Short History of Mauritius

criticised by a London Magazine

‘The African and Colonial World’, a monthly magazine of London which deals with Colonial Affairs has in its issue of February criticised the book ‘A Short History of Mauritius’ by Barnwell & Toussaint.

Our readers will remember that on the 6th November last our contributor Mr D. Napal B.A. (Hons) while reviewing the book pointed out some discrepancies.

We sent a copy of the book and a copy of the Mauritius Times in which Mr Napal reviewed the book to Sir Christopher Cox, for his consideration.

Acknowledging receipt, Sir Christopher told us that he has read the review and that he would discuss the matter with the Authorities before leaving the Colony. What has been the outcome of that discussion? We still don’t know. We have the satisfaction to learn that the book has attracted the attention of some journalists in London. All are unanimous to say that certain passages of the book are biased.

We think that it is time for the Education Authorities to amend the book. We give below extracts of the editorial comment on the book.


* * *


“In our section of book reviews mention is made about the publication of a book on the history of Mauritius by two senior civil servants of the Government of that Colony.

The Indian section of the community in Mauritius has taken strong objection to some references in this book. The matter of the wages and its effects upon the workers has been discussed by our reviewer in the other section. The other points to which Indians objected were the references in which it was asserted that one of the important causes of the riots in the sugar-cane fields was not so much as a genuine grievance of the workers but were inspired by the Nationalist Movement of “India for the Indians.”

This reference does not seem to explain itself, as nobody can see any harm in the demand of “India for the Indians” unless there is an inference as has often been expressed in Mauritius, by the other communities that a section of the Indian people are now demanding the incorporation of Mauritius politically into the Republic of India.

Though it sounds fantastic and politically unrealistic, yet one section of the Right Wing reactionaries, represented by the vested interests who own a great deal of means of production and distribution on the island, are constantly using this argument to discredit the democratic political movements.

It is now being asserted that the Indian population, amounting to nearly 62 per cent, are harbouring a desire at the back of their minds that they should dominate the entire Government and ultimately link with India.

By all the declarations and the statement of policies in India, and by the Indian Government and all the leaders of public opinion in Mauritius, in the Press and on the platform, this policy has never been considered within the realm of politics. The cardinal principle of the Indian foreign policy has always been that having suffered under foreign domination it has no desire in any shape or form to pursue the policy of imperialism or domination of other territories.

The Labour Party in Mauritius, composed of people of all the communities, is claiming the right of self-determination on a basis of adult franchise, irrespective of any race or religion. The Indian people having been brought to Mauritius more than 100 years ago, as indentured labourers, have worked and struggled on the island in conditions often worse than slavery and without any benefit or advantage of education or any political support from any quarter.

After two or three generations, by the dint of their perseverance and the sweat of their brow, they have made Mauritius a prosperous island and made it possible for generations of French settlers to draw immense profits on the sugar plantations…”

In conclusion the editor writes: “False fears and alarms created by the minority communities would not justify withholding the legitimate rights of the people in the Colony. All the responsible leaders of Indian origin have demonstrated their will and desire to work in perfect peace and harmony with people of every other race in the island, and people who are now ready and willing to cause confusion and division on racial and religious grounds are not serving the true interests of the Colony.”

* * *

Should The Civil Service

be mauritianised ?

In our issue of the 28th January last, one of our correspondents writing under the penname of Civil Servant expressed the view that the Mauritian as head or subhead of a department is never popular because he is always biased by social communal and political views. In support of his statement he quoted one example of Favouritism and one of Ruthlessness alleged to have been committed by a Mauritian head of department. As the allegation of our correspondent was of a communal nature we did not mention it.

Le Mauricien whose zeal for the mauritianisation of the Civil Service and whose reluctance to the mauritianisation of the Administration are known gave the opinion of our correspondent a party political twist which made much ink flow.

The issue is simple and clear. As a matter of principle, mauritianisation of the Civil Service should go Pari Passu with the mauritianisation of the Administration. Merit for merit a Mauritian should be chosen instead of an overseas officer. What the tax payer expects from heads and sub-heads of the Government Departments is that they must be highly efficient and humane, that they must be persons of character and above all that they must not be biased by social, communal or political considerations.

Nationalisation of the Services is the watchword of progressive parties in all British Colonies. Even in a colony like British Guinea where politics had been pushed to an extreme there had been a demand for “Guianization” of the Civil Service.

Mauritianisation of the Services is but a recent innovation. It was hailed by all sections of the population. Because some mauritianized departments did not function properly people got quickly disillusioned.

The case of the Schools Department (now the Education Department) is still vivid in the mind of the public. Sir Bede Clifford appointed Mr Ward Director of Education, who cleansed the Augean stable and raised the standard of education and the status of the teachers and thus proved himself a very sound administrator.

The Post and Telegraphs Department similarly underwent a complete overhaul under a Britisher.

A Mauritian was at the head of the Income Tax Department. The dramatic resignation of that gentleman set people thinking as to how far Mauritians could be entrusted with high posts of key departments.

Man is an emotional creature. The campaign of political and communal hatred which has been going on in full swing in some sections of the press has had unfortunately its impact on people who should know better. No one can gainsay that some local heads of departments betray, ‘unconsciously’ perhaps, a way of acting and doing things which savours too much of the communal line. Further, as heads of Government Departments are answerable for their actions only to the Colonial Secretary and not to the taxpayers’ representations, it is not strange that some consider themselves as belonging to a distinct class and sometimes adopt a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude.

In a responsible government the head of the department would be answerable to the minister (or member) for that deparment, who in turn would be answerable to the Cabinet (or to the Executive Council) and ultimately to the taxpayers. This principle will apply whether the officer is an overseas or a local officer. So long as the minister or member is a local man, we need not bother too much about the sort of officers serving under him and need only concern ourselves about their abilities, honesty and aptitudes. In Nigeria, Gold Coast and to some extent even in Pakistan and Ceylon, there are still a number of British officers serving under local ministers. Mauritianisation of the Civil Service and the mauritianisation of the political structure are not necessarily contradictory and any brief to the contrary betrays at best a superficial acquaintance with constitutional theory and practice.

If the public or the junior Civil Servants are sometimes inclined to prefer Britishers as heads or sub-heads of Government Departments, it is not always by prejudice or disposition but because they are aware that most Britishers have some qualities which place them above our local men. Whatever may be the faults we attribute to the English head of department, it is generally accepted that he is not very easily amenable to inside or outside influences in his administrative capacity: he is not easily biased by communal or racial views and he looks at things in a border perspective. He is an administrator by tradition. Because he has learnt his job in a country which cannot bear any comparison with Mauritius and because he had the advantage of serving in other territories his ability as an administrator is as a rule more versatile than that of the Mauritian who has not had similar advantages.

We are not holding any special plea for the British officer but we must record that there are many Britishers who accept to go out into the Colonies not so much with a view of amassing wealth but to serve the real interests of a territory. Of course one cannot be very dogmatic one way or the other. We are stating the rule as a rule and there can be, and there have been exceptions. But generally, British officers if they are not anything, are, on a long-term view builders of sound political institutions and in such territories as ours this is the first consideration that really matters.

All this however is not to say that there have not been good Mauritian administrators. They have been few and far between. The politics of the country are passing through a transition period. After a period of trial and error, things will certainly settle down to a more orderly and more satisfying pattern.

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