By Nita Chicooree
The question is: how much do all the Commissions cost to in terms of public funds? To what tangible purpose are those expenses incurred? We guess that the latest one, the Truth and Justice Commission employed historians, university professors, economists, sociologists and other specialists for a total cost of about Rs 60 million.To what extent have the Commission shed light on the dark history of the island or, to be precise, on the black and white past, and subsequently on the triangular economic and social pattern of white, brown and black racial set-up?
The conclusions of the Truth and Justice Commission’s findings published in the press do not tell us more than what we were aware of. That’s besides the comments from members of the public and Mauritians abroad and revisionists of history, who invite us to see the long-term ‘positive’ aspects of the whole St Malo, Nantes, Mozambique, Madagascar and Ile de France colonialist adventure. That is the end of it.
Well, a better use can be made of public funds invested in that Commission by publishing books giving all the details of its findings. These books can be used in the teaching of Mauritian history at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. MIE officers have hopefully the competence to assess and distil the mass of knowledge that different age groups can assimilate. It would also be useful knowledge to the public in general. Let people take cognizance of the facts, figures, dates, etc., without distorting historical truths. Tourists may buy the history manuals for their own reading or offer to friends and relatives back home.
By the way, not all foreign visitors spend their time basking in the sun. A good number of them are retirees who spend four to six months in Mauritius regularly, and they will certainly appreciate to know the country better by going through its history. They are not the ones who are rushing to spend their money at Bagatelle these days. The new temple of high consumption draws crowds from the descendants of slaves and coolies to the great pleasure of ENL and their South African partners.
The other point is that politicians should abstain from constantly referring to history, quoting approximate facts and figures and distorting truths to suit their present-day purposes. Let politicians not interfere in modern history and make loyal servants write books to enhance their own image or to please the financial lobbies that dictate terms to the government. Mauritians are mature enough to analyse history objectively and rationally.
As regards revisionists, their views do not come as a surprise to anyone. The current French President decided that France had had enough of ‘apologizing’ for the past, and that the ‘positive contribution’ of colonization should be written down in the Constitution. French intellectuals retorted that it was not the business of politicians to meddle with history and have their interpretation of events inscribed in the Constitution. May we remind the local revisionists that what they call the initial economic development which laid the foundation stones for later development was carried out in the interests of their ‘métropole’ under the Kings’ orders and for their own financial interests, not for the pretty faces of the African slaves, just as the African workers had to clear out by six pm after doing their day’s work in white areas during apartheid in South Africa.
Received ideas about how emancipated slaves refused to work and Indian labourers had to be sent over here to replace them in the fields, bring to mind how, in developed countries today, local workers are laid off by big companies while immigrant workers are given the jobs with lower pay for the companies to draw up even better benefits. The lie given to the public is that French, British or Italian workers no longer want to do the jobs. And the hue and cry that was raised over the abolition of slavery is echoed every time big companies complain about how new measures in favour of workers may trim down their profits.
What is the principle of slavery? Very simply, the use of fellow human beings as commodities to be bought and sold, used, abused and thrown away when no longer productive. Though not all forms of exploitation can be compared to the African slave trade, let us recall the extreme sufferings English children as young as 4 years old had to undergo in mills and factories during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. No other children across the world suffered as much as English children did.
Among other cruelties, the capture of Europeans by Arab mercenaries and their enslavement in Arab countries, resulted in forced labour for the construction of palaces, the torture chambers in Morocco, the ongoing slavery in Mauritania and Sudan. Though it is not an official institution, we also have to this day the predatory instinct of employers who enslave children in carpet factories in India and Pakistan. Not to mention the serfs and landlord feudal set-up in Bihar for decades after Independence.
The legacy of slavery and colonialism is still visible in the slavish mindset some citizens adopt and the predatory attitudes of those who are in a position of power. Post-colonial societies have obtained the most powerful institution in Parliament to promote the common welfare of people. Do the new rulers regard the people as equal citizens or do they look upon them as subjects of the elected members who represent them? Is there transparency in the conduct of economic affairs? Are we made to believe that we have had the cleanest and most irreproachable governments in the world by virtue of having democratic institutions?
Commissions against corruption have never blamed anyone of those in power for conflict of interest, bribery and blatant corruption. No elected member has apparently used his position to promote personal or clan interest, or been involved in embezzlement of funds to the detriment of common welfare… How clean we are!
Another commission that has been using up public funds is the Commission for the Democratization of Economy. It is not only a matter of demonstrating the evolution from free labour in sugarcane fields to banking, hotel industry, shopping malls, real estate, Valriche, Anahita and the likes of these flashing on billboards at the airport and inviting foreigners to settle down in the country. The commission is not telling people clearly that the gap will never actually be bridged, that future generations will have to put up with it.
Today, it is generally acknowledged that all components of Mauritian society, whatever might have been their status in the past, have their place in the country although some have more space than others. And let us put the past behind us. That is why Mauritius is the only island where every component of society including descendants of French settlers feel free to celebrate their history. Despite economic progress and all, there is still the feeling of being overpowered by the financial forces of descendants of former colonizers.
* Published in print edition on 23 December 2011
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