The Protest March of 29th August

The active participation of the people can and will only further the causes of democracy, liberty and social justice. We can only expect that some sanity will be restored in the country

By Sada Reddi

The unprecedented protest march in Port-Louis on Saturday 29th August 2020 is a clear indication that the people have decided to take their destiny in their own hands. We have never known such numbers coming together for a party gathering or a protest for a long time. The protesters came out for a number of reasons and their grievances were many but for too long the authorities had ignored them, hence the emergence of a movement to achieve the people’s aspirations.

The people did not fall in the trap that sought to lure them with offers for duty-free liquor, tobacco and perfume. The grievance list is long and has been articulated by many in the Assembly, in the press and in the social media and other places. Some of the crying ills are being reiterated everyday in the press and social media, and a few needs to be highlighted. They are: incompetence of the authorities, nepotism, abuse of power, corruption of our institutions, and mismanagement of the economy. It appears that the people have had enough; the trust between the people and the government has been ruptured and there is a determination for the people to recover their rights as a sovereign people.

Already in a previous article on civil society protest on 11th July, we sensed that it marked a new beginning and it had the potential to develop a new momentum with increasing political consciousness, and to transform politics, economics and society in more fundamental ways. The shipwreck of the Wakashio on the reefs in the southeast of the island, though still shrouded in mystery, provided irrefutable evidence to the people that neither the security of the country nor that of the people can be left in the hands of amateurs. It seems that the authorities had come to believe that money politics, public relations exercise and arbitrary use of police powers are sufficient to entrench them in power and serve their own interests.

While it may not be our approach to give too much credit to individuals in history, and more often we tend to emphasize more social and economic factors, yet the role of individuals in history is inescapable.

Far from comparing the role of historic figures to the action of other individuals today, we cannot dissociate the mass movement triggered by the Non-Cooperation movement in India in the 1920s from Mahatma Gandhi. Other individuals had done the same thing – Nkrumah, Kenyatta and Nyerere. In 1880 Emmeline Pankhurst started the suffragette movement which contributed to women’s emancipation. In 1962, Martin Luther King’s march on Washington marked a turning point in the civil rights movement in America. Nearer to us, Nelson Mandela’s struggle played a major role to bring about the end of apartheid and more recently George Floyd’s death sparked a number of protest movements for freedom and justice.

All these leaders have demonstrated that mass protest and unity can make significant contributions towards ending injustice and despotism. They have also shown us that neither the police nor the military or state power or the new technologies can withstand the determination and power of the people to bring about social change when the people have decided to stand for their liberty and freedom.

The successful protest march has enabled Mauritians to conquer their fear which has sometimes paralyzed their response to injustice, and made them realize the power which lies dormant in them, and that they can and should become the agents of change.

After the 29th August, things will not be the same. Looking at the composition of the crowd, it appears to be dominated by the 20-35 age group suggesting that Facebookers have now taken to the streets. Already we can anticipate a huge crowd on the 12th September at Mahebourg, where the participants will see with their own eyes that what looks deceptively like clean seawater would in fact be polluted water after the spilled oil has been dissolved in the sea. The destruction of marine life in these waters, the resulting deaths of so many sea animals, and the destruction of the livelihoods of thousands of people remain an unmitigated man-made disaster. The inhabitants of these regions and beyond strongly feel a deep sense of loss which they will mourn for many years to come

Bruneau Laurette has specified his objectives – to set up an office in Port Louis to put pressure on the government for the prime Minister to resign and to sign a petition for a referendum. Soon one can expect students too to start signing their own petition to formulate their aspirations. How the authorities will react to the protest will be seen in the days to come. They may dismiss the protest just as Louis XVI wrote in his diary of the 14th July when the bastille fell: ‘Rien’, and we know what happened afterwards. That was the beginning of the people’s revolution during the French Revolution.

Foreign countries and international institutions are closely watching how events unfold and would generally provide support for just causes and for movements that do away with corruption. It may be that concessions grudgingly yielded may come too late for too much damage has already been done and is beyond repair. The authorities can also resort to strategies to discredit the movement or even use more repression but these will be counter-productive, just like so many actions of the authorities.

Whatever be the events that would be unravelled in the months to come, the people have learnt once more the power of sustained and organized agitation and its capacity to move mountains. The active participation of the people can and will only further the causes of democracy, liberty and social justice. We can only expect that some sanity will be restored in the country.

* Published in print edition on 1 September 2020

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