Mauritius Times – 60 Years
By Peter Ibbotson
On December 9, Le Mauricien published the programme of the Parti Mauricien; as meretricious a document as ever I saw. Let us take a close look at the document and see what it contains and implies.
It begins by saying that the PM was founded in 1950 under the presidency of Hon Koenig, by “des citoyens de toutes les communautés”. Thus, right at the start the document contains an inexactitude. It was the Ralliement Mauricien which was originally formed; after a crashing defeat at the 1953 general election, the routed forces of the Ralliement regrouped themselves into the PM; but for months after the PM was in existence, Hon Koenig described himself consistently as a non-party man. He even described himself as non-party in the Legislative Council on as least one occasion. And far from being a creation of members of all communities, the Ralliement (later the PM) was created by a group of Franco-Mauritians (reactionaries, needless to add) whose aim was to get full power for themselves and as many seats in Council as possible. Their only problem was to get the maximum profit out of sugar.
History aside, what do we read as the aims of the PM? There are seven; I will deal with various of these seriatim.
The first aim is “creer un mauricianisme intégral”; the second is “créer une atmosphère saine…” These do not tie up with the avowed aim of the leaders of the PM to perpetuate Franco-Mauritian leadership. The psychology of the Franco-Mauritians is the psychology of the master race, the herrenvolk mentality so well known to Nazis, Fascists and South African Nationalists. In the past the Franco-Mauritians have combated the idea of having a coloured man as general secretary of the PM; they have combated the idea of having a Moslem assistant secretary. When they proposed having a Franco-Mauritian as regional secretary in Lower Plaines Wilhems, some coloured members proposed a coloured regional secretary for Upper Plaines Wilhems. At once this idea was opposed. “What!” exclaimed the Franco-Mauritians in effect, “Have a coloured secretary in Upper Plaines Wilhems? No fear. We’re not having a coloured secretary; No; definitely not. No coloured secretary for Upper Plaines Wilhems!”
And speaking of “mauricianisme intégral”, we have only to refer back to the speeches by Hon Koenig at several of his election meetings in Port Louis and elsewhere. He stressed the question of Hindu domination and waved aloft the bogey-banner of Hindu hegemony. At the last municipal elections, an agent of the PM circulated a leaflet purporting to show a coloured servant being beaten by a Hindu woman — it was a picture reprinted (without the publishers’ permission) from the Oxford English Course, (I dealt with this leaflet in the Mauritius Times at the time of the elections in 1956). The distribution of this leaflet was intended to aggravate racial tension.
At the municipal election, too, the PM demonstrated its concern for “mauricianisme intégral” by telling voters to vote differently in different wards. In Ward IV, for example, the PM said to vote for Christians only; but in other wards, they said to vote for Franco-Mauritians and Moslems only. And this was part for their campaign to discredit Hon Mohamed who at the time had served his turn for the PM and was being cast aside as of no further political advantage to the Parti.
Guy d’Arifat has been, in the past, prominently connected with the PM. He, too, has evidence to support criticism of the PM’s claim to be working for “mauricianisme intégral”. Speaking at a public meeting at Rose Hill on October 13 last he referred to two principles underlying the raison d’être of the PM. He said, “Le deuxième principe est que la communauté hindoue submergera toutes les autres communautés, avec le système d’un député par circonscription. Ces deux principes sont les deux pivots des arguments du Parti Mauricien. Si un de ces pivots flanche, tous leurs arguments doivent tomber à terre”. And M. d’Arifat went on to analyse the anti-Hindu attitude of the PM in detail and to criticize the Parti’s arguments. But the fact that he did so, — and remember that he was prominent in the councils of the PM, — is sufficient to show that the PM, despite its high-sounding concern in its programme for the creation of a “mauricianisme intégral”, is based firmly and squarely on one basic policy: the bogey of Hindu domination. (The PM forgets that for decades there has been white domination in Mauritius!).
We will go on to aim number three. This is: ‘Garantir à chaque travailleur un travail dans des conditions saines et agréables, un salaire minimum convenable…” A worthy aim, indeed, but shall we ever see the PM put it into practice? The supporters of the PM are the sugar barons who have always had it in their power to give a decent living wage to their workers; to all their workers instead of only to the état-major. The workers on the Mauritian sugar plantation are among the lowest-paid in the British Commonwealth; if Mauritius were a French colony, he would in all probability be even worse off — but that is a digression. Yet it is by the blood and tears and toil and sweat of the Indo-Mauritians (first as indentured labourers, later as free labourers) that the sugar barons have prospered; and I call Virgil Naz to be my witness. For years it has been in the power of the sugar barons — the same people who now support the PM and its aim “garantir… un salaire minimum convenable” — to pay that decent minimum wage. But have they done so? No; and the riots pre-war and during the war are witness of the intransigence of the sugar barons when it was a question of paying decent wages.
It is the labourers who are poorly paid, of course. The état-major is more than well paid; they have, indeed, princely privileges. They get large bonuses every year over and above their normal year’s salary; this bonus can be paid because of their successful exploitation (on behalf of their employers, the barons) of the poor labourers. The état-major enjoys free housing, beautiful concrete houses with large spaces for gardens (flowers and fruit and vegetables), which contrast with the straw and dung shanties which the ordinary labourer has to inhabit. They get their servants free; they get privileged schooling for their children (fees paid at secondary schools, for example), and free books and school equipment. There are some estates which have small private buses to carry the état-major children to school in Curepipe and back home, all free of charge. “Life is easy and the people carefree” said the newsreel commentator in 1956; what he should have said was “Life is really easy for the carefree état-major”.
The PM speaks of establishing “de bonnes relations entre employeurs et employés”. How on earth can this be done when a handful of employees, a few hundred are treated as sons of the Aga Khan while thousands upon thousands of poor labourers are toiling for a meagre wage and having employment only twice or thrice a week in the crushing season and less during the intercrop? Centralisation of the factories, and mechanisation and artificial weed-killing, has done nothing to improve the chances of the poor workers, on the other hand, centralisation has widened the opportunity for the fils-à-papa to step into a managerial post over the head of someone better qualified by experience to fill it but lacking the right-coloured skin.
The PM is also to encourage youth movements. Another laudable aim, this: but where is the PM to get the money? By subscriptions of members? Or by gifts from the sugar barons and other commercial and industrial interests? We suspect the latter; it would be interesting if the PM were to publish its present balance sheet so that we could see just where its funds now come from. There must be some wealthy backers of the present PM for it to be able to pay its secretaries monthly salaries of Rs 1,500; to finance elections, at which they have already spent thousands of rupees backing lame horses; to finance undercover agents who publish and distribute various publications; to distribute free of charge daily papers like the Cernéen and others on sugar estates and wherever there are Indo-Mauritians; and, as I have been reliably informed, to have an organised ring of informers in private employment and elsewhere to follow every act and every move of peaceful, law-abiding citizens whose opinions happen to differ from those of the PM itself.
So much for the seven aims of the Parti Mauricien. There follows in the press report which I have before me various more detailed comments on aspects of policy such as proportional representation, electoral reform, unemployment, education, etc. With these detailed comments I will deal in another article; for the present I will add only that the PM wants “l’établissement de cours du soir sur une grande échelle”. At these the main subjects would I suppose, be artificial weedkilling and income tax evasion!
Friday 10th January, 1958
5th Year – No 179
* Published in print edition on 7 December 2021
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