Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago — Land Tenure in Mauritius

2nd Year No 65 — Friday – 4th November 1955  —

(The problem of land tenure is becoming acute. While in some advanced countries legislation is being introduced to fix a ceiling for land possession, here we do not even have the necessary legislation to control land tenure. During his visit, Mr Fenner Brockway was shown a small hamlet, which was bulldozered off the ground, by a landlord after the tenants were expelled. Some of them held tenancy for 40 years.

In 1953, 10,195 acres of land which represent 5.5% of the total area under cultivation in Mauritius was held by metayers. Almost all barren and marginal lands are rented to metayers as testified by the following facts: while the average yield per acre reaped by estates with factory was 31.5 tons of cane; the metayer produced only 19 tons.

On the 31st December 1953 government had on lease 4,510 arpents of Pas Geometriques and 4,576 arpents of Crown Lands at an average rent of Rs 17.50 per arpent, per year. Most of the lessees are big landowners. In many cases the Pas Geometriques, which form the coastal belts, are sub-leased at three to four hundred rupees per arpent yearly.

In order to coerce the small man into political obedience some landlords are expelling their tenants and metayers. This article comes in time and we hope Government will give earnest and early consideration to this matter. – Editor)

Mauritius is an agricultural country. Of the 400,000 acres that constitute the island, less than half is actually cultivated. The bulk is in sugar cane. Aloe is ruined; tea and tobacco occupy about more than a couple of thousand acres.

The two largest owners of lands are the sugar estates and the Government. The Government has two types of lands: Crown and Pas Geometriques lands. The main use of Government is afforestation, which under Edgerley is doing fairly well.

What the Government cannot use, it leases to people. There are several categories of lessees. The oil islands (the Chagos Archipelago, Agalega, St Brandon) are leased to companies to be exploited through copra, bird guano or fisheries. Most of the coastal belts are leased to companies or private individuals either for private afforestation to compete with Government or for campements or for sand quarries or vegetables.

Very little however is directly leased. These lands are leased for nominal rates and the lessees are allowed to sublease at exorbitant rates of rent.

Besides these, there are the hunting grounds leased for a kind of pleasure which does not profit the people in any way. These hunting rights give some people monopoly of stags and river fisheries including camarons.

Let us look at this capitalistic outlook. The lands must bring highest revenues to the Government through rents. They should also produce the maximum so that the Government might get additional revenues. They would also provide employment and foodstuffs. It is also logical that if public revenues are spent in afforestation, the people should not have been allowed to have extensive forests especially on Crown lands.

The poor man wishes to have a little plot of land to supplement his meagre income when his family gets larger and larger. All lands are blocked in private hands. There are large areas kept blocked and waste to prevent them from falling into the hands of poor people. Why? If these men work on their lands, the estates will not have cheap labour.

With centralization of estates, miles of areas have come into the hands of the same company and competition is reduced to its minimum. The workers have no bargaining power. They are therefore under a system of slavery.

Some people are able to lease lands in three ways. The estates since a long time allow metayers either to plant canes or vegetables. These lands are given under a verbal lease, the period being guided by the whims of the landlord. The rent is a norminal cash payment plus fixed amount of sugar.

You clear the ground, wall up, manure and plant and the sugar quantum being fixed, the higher the yield, the higher the rent goes. The day your face does not please, you are kicked off.

Another system of lease is the sub-letting from Crown or Pas Geometriques land at profiteering rates of land. It is legally and morally objectionable.

The third is too-temporary tenancy during the period when eucalyptus, filao or aloe trees grow up to dump the vegetables.

All these have a vicious system of exploitation. The country has remained so much under the heels of capitalism that no tenancy legislation has even been attempted. I brought a motion in 1949. A Committee was set up. After more than a year the committee drafted a bill to be presented.

We are in 1955 and nothing has been done. Questions have been put here in Council and also in the House of Commons but the Government always gives excuse to postpone it. The Government in this respect gives the impression to be in collusion with capitalism.

The land question is at the root of our troubles and the people must exert their might to have it redressed. I invite thinking young people to take interest in it as with it is bound the uplift of the masses.

If Socialism must survive in the country, future politicians must take interest in this. Otherwise we are talking in the air.

* Published in print edition on 22 July 2016

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