A video of what appears to be a lunch speech by one Pierre Noel, senior cadre of Alteo Ltd, has gone viral this week on social media and seems to have been widely circulated via WhatsApp in the country. It would appear that the speech has been furtively captured on video by one of the guests at the lunch, presumably held on one of the ‘chassées’ of the island, access to which is usually restricted to a few Mauritians. Most of those in attendance at the lunch, except for the one who recorded the speech, may have found it humorous, but not so by the thousands who have seen the recording and expressed their indignation on social media and in different settings at the contempt expressed by the Alteo employee for the Hindu community of this country and for Indians generally.
On the other hand, we note that the speechmaker-cum-comedian did not choose to circulate his speech in the public domain; he has had also the good sense of not posting it on any social media platform, which according to legal minds would not have allowed him to escape from the long arm of the law by virtue of Section 46 of ICTA for “causing annoyance”, etc. However, we cannot help condemning in the strongest terms the vulgarities and expletives used in the speech. They betray a deep-seated mindset that seems to refuse to die down – one prevalent during the pre-Independence days as promoted by the likes of NMU and his ilk – despite all the benefits that may have accrued to the anti-Independence forces since 1968 to this day.
As could be expected, the reaction from citizens across a wide cross-section of the population, especially on social media and during social interactions and in workplaces has been strong: “Dégoûtant! Shameful! Excessivement puant!…” And much more… so virulent and violent that we deem them not publishable in the columns of this paper.
We understand that the speechmaker has been called by the CCID for interrogation. Alteo Ltd – a subsidiary company of IBL -, which advertises itself as “one of the leaders in the sugar, renewable energy and property sectors of the Indian Ocean and also a major player in the Mauritian sugar industry” has announced yesterday the suspension of its employee and its decision to undertake an “enquête interne”. Will that go far enough to mitigate the harm caused to its corporate image as a company that boasts of its adherence to the virtues of “respect… l’une de nos valeurs clés” – is for Alteo Ltd and IBL to decide.
There is more however. In an interview on the Alteo group site on 15 September 2017, Pierre Noel was presented as the new Agricultural Manager of the group after his return as in charge of the group’s TMC in Tanzania, where he had worked for 17 years. To the first question asked of him, this is what he replied: ‘ça a été une experience enrichissante qui m’a apporté une grande ouverture d’esprit. Découvrir un nouveau pays, une nouvelle culture, une nouvelle langue et une nouvelle façon de travailler était extraordinaire.’
Three years down the line, in light of this video, we may be permitted to ask what has happened to the ‘grande ouverture d’esprit’ that Pierre Noel claimed to have been endowed with as a result of contact with a new culture? Since ‘charité bien ordonnée commence chez soi’, Pierre Noel would be well advised to apply whatever remains of his ‘grande ouverture d’esprit’ to the cultures in his land of birth, and perhaps a bit more to the Hindu culture which he seems not to be either familiar with or fond of. He might be surprised to discover its richness, its breadth and depth – and that would take him much beyond his facebook apology. There is nothing like the light of knowledge to dispel the darkness of ignorance.
At the end of the day, what is regrettable and is likely to complicate matters is that this highly unacceptable incident involving the highly condemnable speech of Pierre Noel has come in the wake of the two recent protest marches of the “Pou Nouvo Moris” movement, which has caused discomfort amongst a large swathe of the population for the vulgarity on display during these marches, as well as the speech of cardinal Piat at the Pere Laval anniversary, which from echoes that reach us is also not condoned by all and sundry. There are good reasons for the Government to embark on a reform of its governance of the country; we need not catalogue the long list of failings and scandals that have marked its mandate so far. What is perceived by an important section of the population as an aggression of their culture and morals will elicit counter reactions, and these could be leveraged by the powers that be to champion for the maintenance of the status quo.
* Published in print edition on 18 September 2020
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