Public outrage is partly the mirror reflection of our own shortcomings

Nita Chicooree-Mercier

The spate of scandals hogging the headlines in the past two weeks reveals quite an unexpected reaction from some of our compatriots if we go by online comments in the mainstream press, where angry voices have been claiming the heads of the culprits. The propensity for mimicry has gained ground to some extent due to increasing exposure to questionable foreign ways through mass media and migration. It looks as if some of our compatriots abroad are tempted by a typical American national trait of mobs meting out expeditious punishment to wrongdoers.

Private radios already mimic their counterparts in the neighbouring sister island with presenters shouting in your ears, whipping up current events to sensational level and cashing on the popular excitement for a few minutes’ presence on the air. Notice that in the process journalists have also picked up the French-inspired language habits aired on RFO, Antenne Reunion, etc. ,such as ‘bonne journée’, ‘bonne après-midi’, ‘bon courage’ and so on, which you hear around in its kreolized version of ‘bonne zournée’ and ‘bon couraz’. What a progress!

Fortunately, ‘bonne zournée’ with a ‘z’ is not overused all day long, and you can choose not to answer, anyway, while ‘bon couraz’ should rather be avoided. It is as if you needed courage for carrying out daily simple tasks. It sounds all right in the sister island where the attitude to work carries the imprint of the French leftist bent which considers working as an anomaly, mingled with a Reunionese mindset whereby three centuries of free labor should exempt today’s people from the burden of work. It all smacks of laziness and indolence. Thanks to private radios for thoughtless transmission of ineptitude in the local landscape.

Puritan morality

As if Frenchifying was not enough, here are now signs of Americanization. The young especially are increasingly adopting ‘Wow’ to express wonder and appreciation. Now online comments shout themselves hoarse for quick punishment. There are already two cases of lynching; one in Port-Louis where a young man was badly beaten up for trying to steal a car, and another one in Triolet which led to the death of a 45-year-old mother who was trying to save her son from being beaten up by a group of angry young men. So too in the wake of the court condemnation of the ambassador in Washington, there was a clamour for the ‘tar and feather’ punishment’ for the ‘ignominious ambassador’ which recalls the dark days of American history, a common practice to punish civil rights black activists, their white sympathizers called ‘nigger lovers’ and any rogues who offended Puritan morality.

Another fellow by the name of Marc commented: ‘Bag and baggage Soboron ought to pack and repatriate to his culture where man’s inhumanity to man constitutes the norm’. Really? Other outraged bloggers made comments on the physical appearance of the Mauritian envoy to the US. Bruce Lee @: ‘ … mo marchand roti pli smart ki li.’ Speville @ ‘Regardez-moi la tronche de cet intrus, et dire que ça représente notre pays , ce genre d’individu sans scrupule…’ Another fellow remarked that Somduth Soborun looks like ‘ene jardinier’. The photo of the young man hailing from a village who was relegated to live in the basement and murdered his wife and in-laws in Canada drew similar comments.

If anything, some Mauritian bloggers in France, the UK, Australia, the US and elsewhere react selectively every time a scandal or crime raises an outcry in the press. About three years ago, a 24-year-old Mauritian young man murdered a 70-year-old Frenchwoman and cut her body to pieces in the suburb of Paris. It did not arouse much reaction on internet blogs. Neither did the recent feat of a young woman who swindled out huge sums from English banks. The alleged complicity of politicians in the Gros Derek drug-related case as regard illicit transfers of money is likely to get drowned into silence after some feeble protest on blogs.

The other point is to what extent laws and regulations monitor and influence the way people behave in a given society. How long does it take locals who have migrated to Canada, UK, Australia, France and elsewhere to abide by labour laws regulating working conditions and workers’ rights in their host countries in cases where our compatriots are employers and not employees. Like their Canadian or French comrades, they are not genetically programmed to respect laws but the official regulating bodies in those countries do not give them much choice and, eventually, they learn to respect workers’ rights.

Any keen observer who has travelled enough cannot fail to notice how the same law-abiding European citizens and their counterparts across the Atlantic who settle or take temporary residence in developing countries treat local workers and take advantage of a weak implementation of laws. They feel free to underpay and exploit workers because they know they can get away with it. Call it human frailty if you wish, this is not the point here. They just adapt to and take advantage of the prevailing systems. When they do so in Africa or Asia, they put aside the law-abiding code and respect for fellow workers they learnt back home. The propensity for dodging regulations is dormant, not extinct.

The moralist diaspora

It would be interesting to know what our compatriots such as Speville think of housemaids working for an average salary of Rs 5000 a month including Sundays in the richest households over here, the sociological and personal implications of mothers not spending a whole free day with their families. See plenty of examples in the bungalows around the coast and in the affluent families in towns. The nouveaux riches and the middle class across the country pay their housemaids even less and also make them work on Sundays. It has been a common practice in South Africa up to now and in developing countries where workers’ rights are not respected.

All those who are concerned about workers’ rights should highlight the low salary policy that is widely applied in the hotel and textile industries. The income bracket of the majority of workers in Mauritius deserves attention from everyone including the moralist diaspora. Currently, the Seychelles hotel industry is advertising for Mauritian expertise. The local hotel barons do not advertise high-profile jobs in Mauritius, because high salaries are reserved only for European expats. Mauritians are not deemed fit to receive top salaries whatever be the skills and expertise they have in their respective fields, not only in the private but in the public sector as well.

Whether it is about a former top French minister having sex with boys in Morocco, implicitly denounced by a former French Minister of Education, or other former French politicians flying to Thailand and other Asian countries for sex with minor girls, equally hinted at in the wake of the scandal caused by an oversexed Frenchman in a New York hotel, it all boils down to individual flaws overweighing social laws and moral codes.

A closed circle of individuals benefits from embezzlement of funds for self-enrichment, nepotism for the interest of relatives and friends, illicit black money, etc., which outrages the moralist majority which is left out. Maybe public outrage is partly the mirror reflection of our own shortcomings that the wrongdoings of others send to us, whether they are ordinary people or high-profile officials.

* Published in print edition on 7 December 2012

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