Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
Topics of The Times
By Peter Ibbotson
From a recent Parliamentary answer to Mr Johnson, we learn that during his visit to the U.K., Sir Robert Scott is discussing the ministerial crisis in Mauritius with the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The natural questions are: Was the Labour Party right to boycott the ministerial elections? And if so, what is their alternative? The answer to the former is “yes”; and why? because nowhere else in the Commonwealth is there the system of electing members of the Executive Council, hence of electing Ministers, by proportional representation from among the members of the Legislative Council. And the alternative? Quite simply, the alternative is that which the Labour Party urged upon Lord Munster: that the leader of the Party getting a majority of seats at a general election shall be styled Prime (or Chief) Minister, and the other Ministers shall be appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister.
That system is in force in Trinidad which like Mauritius has a plural society of whites, coloured, Chinese and Indians. Labour’s alternative is simple, and would work.
Should, however, the detestable system of proportional representation be insisted on for general elections (despite the people’s thrice-expressed opposition thereto), the question then arise: Should Labour boycott the general elections? Here let us go to the Gold Coast again for guidance; just as we went there two weeks ago for guidance on how to deal with organised racial discriminators.
During the post-war constitutional development in the Gold Coast, in 1949, a constitutional committee was set up, consisting entirely of Africans and packed by the Governor with all manner of reactionary middle-class lawyers, business and professional men, as well as conservative chiefs. The chairman was an African judge, Sir J.H. Coussey. The committee duly reported and its recommended constitution was promulgated as the Coussey Constitution. It fell far short of the aspirations of the radicals for immediate self-government. Kwame Nkrumah, leader of the then recently formed Convention People’s Party (CPP), called on his supporters to oppose to the Coussey Constitution and to register their protest with a non-violent campaign of non-cooperation — the Satyagraha methods of Mahatma Gandhi. “Your weapons, the strike and the boycott, are invincible,” declared Nkrumah to the workers; and so it proved. The Colonial Office reacted true to form, and the leaders of the trade unions and the CPP were arrested and imprisoned for the “crime” of demanding self-government for their own country.
With the CPP leaders in jail, the Colonial Office prepared for the general election under the Coussey Constitution. The great problem before the CPP was: Shall we boycott the election, since we detest the Constitution under which it is being held? Nkrumah had already denounced the constitution as “fraudulent and bogus” — words which can equally well be applied to the Scott-Lennox-Boyd proposals in Mauritius.
But the CPP did not boycott the election, despite their opposition to the constitution. From prison, Nkrumah indeed called on the CPP to intensify its organisation for the elections. His motive was to get the CPP to win as many seats as possible so as to prevent the reactionary groups and other conservatives (who had all welcomed the Coussey Constitution) from dominating the Legislative Council and working the hated constitution in the way the Colonial Office wanted it worked.
The result was of course a complete victory for Nkrumah and the CPP which won a sweeping majority of seats. Kwame Nkrumah himself was released from prison to become Prime Minister.
The lesson for the Mauritius Labour Party is therefore not to boycott the general election. Instead it must, although opposing the detestable parts of the Constitution with all the peaceful means in its power, organise itself so that when the general election of 1958 does come, it can go into the political fray and win as many seats as it possibly can. The more Labour seats in the Legislative Council, the less able will the reactionaries be to have things all their own way. “Seek ye first the political kingdom, and everything else will be added unto you,” was one of Nkrumah’s injunctions to his supporters; and the result of the 1950 elections in the Gold Coast amply bore out his words.
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Rise in Sugar Prices
The increase of £1 – 8s – 4d (Rs 19.00) in the guaranteed price of sugar is welcome for the planters. Although the quota to which the higher guaranteed price applies has been lowered by 16,000 tons, the quota would have been lowered in 1957 even if the price hadn’t been changed; so that the increase means an additional income of over £474,000 for the new quota tonnage. Will the workers get a share in this?
We are told the rise in price is due to higher costs of production; but these higher costs, as far as Mauritius is concerned, haven’t been caused by higher wages for the field-workers. Nor have profits suffered unduly by virtue of rising costs and a steady guaranteed price. The last increase in the price of sugar under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement was, in Barbados, the signal for the Barbados Workers Union to ask for and get a wage increase for the field-workers. Will the Mauritius labourers get a rise this time? I wonder; so do they. What is certain is that they will have to pay more for the sugar that they buy; and that any increase which the unions do wrest from the employers will be granted only grudgingly.
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Life is Easy and the People Carefree
At least, that’s what the news-reel commentator said about Mauritius when Princess Margaret visited the island. I wonder if he went to the Central Market in Port Louis; and I wonder what he would have said if he had done so and had seen poor people there grubbing about in the sewer for onions and herbs and rotten vegetables that had been thrown away? Or if he had seen an old woman squatting by the shell of a tortoise that had also been thrown away, scratching with her nails inside the shell to get out any of the offal that might still have been inside? If life were indeed easy, what need would there be of the Save the Children Fund? If the people were indeed carefree, what need would there be for the dockers to have to go on strike to preserve their Union’s bargaining-power against the threat of a company-created bosses’ union?
Exploitation of man by man has led, in the colonies, to the utter degradation of humanity. For it is degradation of humanity for people to have to seek rotten vegetables in the sewer because they cannot afford to buy. Colonialism means exploitation; only when the present dependent territories are self-governing will there be the chance that such dreadful things will begin to go.
Friday 14th December, 1956
* Published in print edition on 12 July 2019
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