MT 60 Years Ago
3rd Year No 76 – Friday 20th January 1956
We publish below some excerpts from two articles which have appeared in the South African Press recently. The first article entitled ‘Little House of Commons not Working Too Well’ is from the Natal Daily News, and the second one is from The Sunday Tribune and is entitled ‘Mauritians are buying farms in Natal’.
As our readers will see the first article deals with Hon Bissoondoyal’s motion on the Police Department. It is an on-the-spot report by Ivor Benson, a representative of The Natal Daily News, who was visiting Mauritius while the motion was debated.
We do not necessarily agree with what Ivor Benson says but still we are publishing his impressions so that the Mauritians might know what foreigners are thinking of them.
The second article is of a more serious nature: at times it is prejudicial and even pernicious. It plays the same tune which we have been hearing since quite a long time in the local reactionary press. And it should be noted also that the representative of the Sunday Tribune too came to Mauritius.
Now that the working class of this country refuses to remain idle under the heels of heartless capitalists we are told that the “political situation in Mauritius worsens.”
As a matter of fact there is nothing political in these commercial deals. But this political twist has been given just to suit the prejudicial propaganda which the local reactionaries have been carrying against Responsible Government. It appears to be an indirect threat to the British Government.
Little House of Commons not working too well
The Hon Sookdeo Bissoondoyal, Independent Member of Grand Port-Savanne , rose in the Legislative Council in Port Louis, Mauritius, to move as a private member that a Royal Commission be appointed to investigate the island’s police administration. In any other Parliament in the British Commonwealth, what an independent does or says is generally not very important, but here it was to prove otherwise.
Mr Bissoondoyal, a former school teacher, arranged the pile of books and papers on the table in front of him, watched by all the other members of the House, and then, starting very slowly and with great deliberation, he began his long awaited oration; stroking the air with his small, soft, almost feminine hands and looking about with an earnest expression in his large, dark, heavy-lidded eyes.
He spoke in English, sometimes producing an odd effect as he translated his own ornate Hindi expressions or strung together all those hackneyed English phrases that best seemed to harmonise with what he has in mind.
He hoped soon, he said, that they would be able to “bask in the optimistic sunshine of a better administration” and he solemnly warned the House that “corruption is so rampant that even deep-dyed criminals will never be brought to book.”
Then came a long catalogue of police misdeeds, all or many of them traceable to racial discrimination by a force that is predominantly anything but Indian. The Beau Songes murderer or murderers had never been found and the implication was that some person of power was being shielded. The Queen’s Distillery thieves had never been caught and punished. A Mr Lionnet had vanished and the police had practically given up the search for him. Why? A Royal Commission must find out.
And so it went on, hour after hour, while the Governor, Sir Robert Scott, in his presidential chair, and all the other members – European, Coloured, Moslem, Hindu and Chinese – sat listening intently. And when he had finished there were many other speakers and the debate dragged on for five days – quite an achievement for a private member.
What made it all significant was this: the leader of the majority Labour Party, Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, himself a Hindu, found himself compelled to come to heel behind the fiery Independent. An eloquent man himself, he would otherwise have found himself in the position of a Pied Piper looking back and finding that all the political children had swerved off and were following some other musician.
In the police debate, Mr Rozemont never opened his mouth – Dr Ramgoolam stood up and spoke for the Labour Party, saying that, although he could not endorse all that Mr Bissoondoyal has said about the police, he felt that since such serious allegations had been made in the Council, they should be thoroughly investigated.
There may or may not have been substance in the allegations against the police. Certainly the reply by the Procureur-General, Mr Espitalier-Noel, was most impressive as he took the charges one by one and contrasted them with the official facts…
This much is certain: the accusations made against the police and against authority in general were a real winner as an appeal to the group impulse of the vast semi-illiterate Hindu Indian labouring class living all over the island in their hut villages. Mr Bissoondoyal had touched into life a powerhouse of popular support.
And so Dr Ramgoolam had to forget for a moment about his efforts to create a purely ideological party on the British model and come to heel behind the demagogue – either that or pass out of the political scene…
It is a surprising situation, for the Europeans, few as they are even extending their financial control. So far from being dispossessed of their land by the Indians, they are dispossessing the Indians they have brought the sugar industry to such a level of efficiency that an acre of land is worth far more to them than to anyone else. Hence they are still buying in the poorer land, while the Indian sells, tempted by high prices…
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Mauritians are buying farms in Natal
Franco-Mauritians are buying large cane farms in Natal at high prices and more of them are waiting, ready to buy at once if the political situation in Mauritius worsens.
Others, still living in the rich, cane covered island 1,700 miles north-east of Durban, are investing more and more of their money abroad against the day they fear – the day when they will finally be compelled to quit a country where they and their ancestors have lived for more than a century.
Already in Zululand, Northern Natal, and more particularly in the neighbourhood of Chaka’s Kraal and Enkwaleni, a regular Franco-Mauritian community has come into existence as settlers have arrived in two’s and three’s bringing with them all their skill and experience in sugar cane cultivation…
More by deals
But more big estates are in the market, and there is a possibility of further important deals with Franco-Mauritians soon.
Still other Mauritian planters have bought properties or are seeking them in Rhodesia where it is hoped to establish a flourishing sugar industry.
A Chaka’s Kraal farmer, who recently returned from a holiday visit to Mauritius, explained why Franco-Mauritians are buying and why they are prepared to pay relatively high prices.
“In Mauritius,” he said, “taxes are high and there is a danger that they will be increased still further to meet the needs of a half-million population that depends almost entirely on the sugar industry. The company tax is already 40 per cent, compared with 25 per cent in South Africa. Distributed profits are still further taxed up to 75 per cent.
“In these circumstances, is it any wonder that planters in Mauritius should be looking abroad? Even a high-priced farm in Natal can look like a bargain in these circumstances.”
A Sunday Tribune representative, who recently visited Mauritius, writes: While the White community, numbering only about 12,000 in a total population of 530,000 still dominates the sugar industry, there is a feeling that they will not be able to do so for many more years.
Everywhere among the European, especially among the young people, I found talk about getting out. Young Mauritians have been leaving in a steady trickle for many years, most of them going to South Africa and many others to Australia and the Central African Federation.
If the British Government grants the request of the Indian dominated Labour Party for full responsible government, there is little doubt that this trickle of emigration will soon turn into a stream.
Meanwhile a new note of bitterness has entered the debates in the Legislative Council in Port Louis – not a happy portent for the future.