In April 2008 a Truth and Justice Commission (TJC) was set up with the task of uncovering the truth about slavery and indentured labour in Mauritius during colonial days. Its report was submitted to the President of the Republic at the end of November 2011.
One could not expect the then government to implement all of the recommendations contained in the report, but it was hoped that it could at least have proceeded with those which were thought implementable at the earliest, and which would have made a difference in the lives of those affected by past – and continuing – discrimination. That was not to be, except for the introduction of Creole language in schools, and the setting up of the Equal Opportunities Commission, an important step in the right direction which the TJC had subsequently equally recommended for ensuring fairer social justice in Mauritius. An inter-ministerial committee presided by Hon Xavier Duval with a mandate of looking into the implementation of the TJC’s recommendations (the Commission had come up with 158 recommendations and other subsidiary recommendations) was thereafter set up. It does not seem that much had been achieved on this front as well.
As it happened in South Africa, such commissions generate a host of expectations on the part of those who have been victims of past injustice and oppression. The Commission did find evidence of the huge atrocities inflicted by the combined concerted efforts of the Catholic Church, the Chamber of Commerce and the Sugar industry.
The Commission also found out how exploiters, including unscrupulous notaries acting vicariously for those exploiters, wrenched away the possessions of those who could not defend themselves against the legal and commercial armada which the exploiters assemble. But it did not recommend monetary compensation against all the abuses made by the powerful of those days in view of an identification problem as to who really are the descendants of slaves today. There is also the impracticality of tracing out the guilt of those who are sitting on huge fortunes inherited through the rogue practices of those days. However it is known that a lot of land was seized unlawfully or ‘prescribed’ against the helplessness of their true owners. The economic elite that has emerged out of this process has gone on consolidating its growing power ‘sans partage’.
Last year, the question of land dispossession again came up eight years after the TJC submitted its report. It took a hunger strike by Clency Harmon for the Government to become alive to the need for some form of redress in the matter of land dispossession. One may conveniently seek refuge in a legalistic approach, and contend that the issue of land dispossession and redress is complex. But it also amounts to a government failing to live up to its constitutional and moral obligations to promote the norms of justice, fairness, and equity. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence, an impenetrable veil behind which have been hiding those who have been pulling the strings and directing governments to give in to their agenda, which is not necessarily in the national interest or the general welfare of the people.
One is left to wonder why do they wield such influence? Such as in the energy sector where, for example, the IPPs get away with using coal at the same time as this is denied for other promoters on environmental grounds. Or the massive property development projects which are resulting in the expanding ‘betonisation’ of our land with the consequences that others outside of these privileged zones have to bear the brunt of.
It would seem that things will now take concrete shape. The Prime Minister announced at the inauguration of the first phase of the Intercontinental Slavery Museum, this week, that the Government is going forward with the setting up of a land division within the Supreme Court, as earlier announced in the Government’s ‘Discours Programme’ last January. This move will surely be welcomed by those who have reason to feel aggrieved and who can now harbour the hope that reparation is on the way. The road will no doubt be arduous and long, given the amount of research that will have to be done to seek out the relevant documents pertaining to land, all of which were written in the archaic French of that time, and which will need expert interpretation.
The findings that result from these searches and eventual rulings by the Land Division should also help to remove once and for all the misconceptions about who among the powerful of those days were responsible for dispossessing the claimants, instead of playing the game of blaming others who were equally the victims of such injustices.
* Published in print edition on 23 October 2020