15 Minutes with Mr Fenner Brockway

MT 60 Yrs – 2nd Year No 59 – Friday – 23rd September 1955

“I am delighted to be in Mauritius, particularly to renew my association with the leaders of the Mauritius Labour Party. I knew Dr Ramgoolam when he was studying in London: he used to be a regular follower of the courses given by the Independent Labour Party Summer School. I met the Labour Members of the Mauritius delegation in London and I hope my visit here will make me more capable of standing their demands for Responsible Government.”
– Message from Mr Fenner Brockway

It was said that Krishna Menon was a Messenger of Peace. Similarly, it can be said that Mr Brockway is a Messenger of Freedom. During a whole lifetime, in his own country and wherever he has gone he has taken up the cudgels on behalf of downtrodden peoples heedless of their creed or complexion. In this same spirit he left England sometime in mid August last and landed at Plaisance on Wednesday night after visiting Gold Coast, Sudan, Kenya and Madagascar.

Yesterday we met him at the residence of Hon R. Seeneevassen where he is lodging and he has kindly given us his impressions on the countries he has recently toured. While at Madagascar he caught fever and consequently he is a bit weak. We hope that he will recuperate and be fit to fulfil the rather heavy programme that has been already elaborated.

Gold Coast

Mr Brockway reached Gold Coast by the end of August last and has seen much of the progress achieved there. The cooperative movement, he said, is very strong and handles most of the cocoa produced in the country and which is disposed of by the Gold Coast Marketing Board. The Trade Union movement is prosperous and has contributed substantially in the uplift of the workers.

The Nkrumah government, which is sometimes bitterly criticized by the opposition, has done much towards the development of that country in general. The government spent eight million £ on a 3-year Development Plan. Large hospitals, great technical schools and colleges have been built and vast road projects have been already completed, but still there is much room for improvement. A great mass education movement has been set afoot and it is doing marvellous work. In the villages’ Social Centres, besides reading and writing, hygiene is taught to adults as well as children.

Gold Coast is moving towards independence, believes Mr Brockway. He says that the Ashanti and some other tribes refuse the Government from Accra. They have suggested to have four Parliaments – (this plan appears to be unworkable) which will be bound up in a Federation. But Mr Khwame Nkrumah is for regional autonomy and one Parliament. Mr Brockway has friends in both camps; his visit has helped to smooth certain difficulties and agreement is now possible.

Mr Brockway believes that Khwame Nkrumah’s plan is workable and it might be accepted. He also believes that the leaders of Gold Coast have proved that they can manage, to a large extent, their own affairs.

Sudan

In Sudan there has been no remarkable change. The people are divided in two conflicting blocs and in a recent riot some people were killed. Mr Brockway has met the Prime Minister who, he says, is quite reasonable. The tension is not rigid and both parties have adopted an understanding attitude which therefore means that a solution will be reached in a near future.

Kenya

“I am not popular with a section of the European population of Kenya,” says Mr Fenner Brockway. And on his arrival he was given police escort (in spite of himself) not to protect him against Kikuyus but against European extremists! The tension between Europeans and Africans is easier now and the Kikuyus have realized that Mau Mau has failed and that their salvation lies in a peaceful and compromising approach towards their problems.

In 1950 Africans and Indians were forbidden to enter some hotels and restaurants which were reserved for Europeans only but today the picture is different; prejudicial practices are not so rigid. Remarkable progress has been made in social development and housing conditions, but still there is much to be done.

Mr Brockway said that at the root of troubles in Kenya lies an economic maladjustment. The land is badly distributed and its redistribution has become imperative. The system of serf labour that is now prevailing on the farms should be abolished. The situation of the Negro in Kenya today reminds us of the plight of the Indian coolies who came to Mauritius a century ago. A contract is signed between the Negro labourer and the European farmer for 3 years. According to that contract he is allowed to keep 15 heads of goat for his family and receives from 2 shs to 4 shs per week for the work he does on the farm. He has no right to travel from one place to another without a permit signed by the Manager of the farm.

For the first time there will be an election for the Legislative Assembly in September next year. Mr Brockway anticipates that the Africans will directly elect their own representatives. At present there are separate electoral registers, but there are hopeful indications that matters will be settled. The trade union movement is progressing rapidly, says Mr Brockway, and its secretary the dynamic and intelligent Tom Nboya has taken his job at heart. Next year Tom Nboya will proceed to England where he will spend one year at Ruskin College.

Mr Brockway is optimistic as regards Kenya’s future.

Madagascar

Mr Brockway has spent one week in Madagascar – a country with which he has very interesting but emotional ties. His grandfather, uncle and aunt have all worked as Missionaries in Madagascar. As a tribute for the good work done by Mr Brockway’s grandfather, the Queen of Madagascar presented the latter with a slave. He liberated the slave and as a token of gratitude the liberated slave adopted as family name: Brockway. Unfortunately Malagasies do not pass on family names so that today there is no Malagasy family bearing that name.

During his stay at Madagascar Mr Brockway has met a descendant of the slave who was liberated by the grandfather and who bears the name Rabrokoway – a Malagasy version of Brockway.

The trade union movement of Madagascar is working fairly well, says Mr Brockway, but the people appear to be inarticulate. Instead of fighting the puppet candidates, which they say, are presented by the government, they lull in the illusion that the United Nations or some outside force will liberate them.

Mr Brockway thinks the Malagasy people should take advantage of the degree of democracy which they are now enjoying. They should resist intimidation and strongly oppose the puppet candidates. Mr Brockway was also told that the government secured every possible device to get their candidates through. He had advised his Malagasy friends to unite themselves behind properly organised political parties. He thinks that a Nationalist Democratic Party and Socialist Party can be constituted.

For mysterious reasons Mr Brockway was everywhere followed by the police. Once, while leaving Tananarive in a taxi, to meet one of his friends outside the town, the taxi-driver observed that a police car was following them. As matters stood, Mr Brockway felt that, had he not left Madagascar for Mauritius, the French authorities would have probably deported him. He has also met the French Governor. But as he was ill he could not see more of the country.

Sub-Editor

 

 

*  Published in print edition on 8 April 2016

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