A Letter from London

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

Today sees the second anniversary of the foundation, at Piton on October 2, 1957, of the Mauritius Family Planning Association. I recalled this when talking to Dr Benedict at a Colonial Office reception for the press delegation on September 14. “Yes,” he remembered, “the women used to ask my wife three questions: How much does your husband make? Where do you keep your jewels? And how can we stop having babies?” Out of Mrs Benedict’s efforts to answer this last question, the F.P.A. was born.

Dr Benedict recalls the formation of the Association in an article in the July issue of Family Planning, only just available, since production was delayed by the printing strike. He says, “In villages in Mauritius there are Hindu socio-religious associations known as baitkas which are ordinarily devoted to religious services, and to mutual aid of their members especially at marriage and death. Membership is acquired by paying a small entrance fee and monthly dues. The baitka building is usually a small thatch or sheet iron hut. In just such a building in a village in Mauritius the first family planning association was founded. Organisationally it was modelled on the baitka. It met on baitka premises with the permission and therefore implicit support of the members. It elected similar officers, charged an entrance fee and small monthly dues which were used to buy contraceptives. Thus it was a type of association with which villagers were familiar even though the purposes of the association were novel to them.”

From this Dr Benedict draws the moral that family planners would be well advised to use established organisations, if at all possible, which can be adapted to the ends of family planning propaganda. But we can also urge that established organisations could be adapted, perhaps, to political organisational ends. Mr Dabee has written two timely articles on the need for mass organisation of the Labour Party in which he echoed pleas which I have also made, in Advance as well as in the Mauritius Times. The baitka organisation is familiar everywhere in Mauritius; therefore an island-wide campaign to set up local Labour Parties in the villages, and constituency Labour Parties in the constituencies, could well use the baitka form of organisation, even if the ends are different. (Though the ends of the Labour Party are mutual self-help and social justice; the basis alike of Socialist and the religious baitka).

To return, however, to the F.P.A. It has been in existence two years. It has spread all over the island. Its first annual report came out last December so of course we cannot have another interim report for another three months. But it would be interesting to know just how far the F.P.A. has been successful up to date. How many women are, in fact, regularly using the Volpar foaming tablets which the F.P.A. is recommending as the cheapest, simplest and most convenient method available at the moment? How far can that F.P.A. say that it has helped, be it in ever so small a degree, to slow down the growth in population? I firmly believe that the F.P.A. is doing valuable work, and is very necessary in Mauritius.

Both the Population and Luce Reports realize the importance of family planning in any consideration of the problems of present-day Mauritius. But is it satisfactory that the F.P.A. should have to continue to exist on its present voluntary, almost hand-to-mouth, basis? Is there no Member of Government who will firmly and unequivocally say that public money will have to be granted to the Family Planning Association in order that its urgent work may the more effectively be carried out? The five-year plan is aimed at raising the general standard of living; will it do so unless family planning is propagated simultaneously? Dr Benedict suggests that “there may well be a case for including family planning in a general programme of economic and social welfare” — but it isn’t in the five-year plan.

* * *

After gaining Rugby from the independent W.J. Brown at the general election of February 1950, Mr James Johnson held his seat by only 199 votes when Labour lost power at the 1951 election. This was in a straight fight against a Conservative; Mr Johnson polled 19,995 against his opponent’s 19,796. In 1955, he increased his majority in a three-cornered contest; polling 19,709 votes against the Conservative candidate’s 18,331 and an independent candidate’s 1,274. It will be noted that Mr Johnson’s 1950 majority of 1,378 over the Conservative was bigger than the independent candidate’s vote; so that he had an absolute majority, in fact, over both his opponents combined. This time he is faced with both Liberal and Conservative opponents. All Mauritians will wish him well; although he is a Labour man, as “Member for Mauritius” he has in the past transcended party lines in advocating what is best for Mauritius.

* * *

It is noteworthy to see what the two main parties have to say on colonial matters in their manifestoes. The Conservatives promise continued “progressive expansion of overseas information services” so that “misrepresentation about British colonialism does not go unchallenged.” We read that the Conservatives will “discuss with our partners in the Commonwealth plans to deal with the status of members too small to be fully self-supporting and self-governing.” (Presumably the Conservatives, ignorant of or else willfully ignoring the population of Mauritius and the plans to make Mauritius really prosperous, regard Mauritius as “too small” for self-government.)

Then, the manifesto declares, “Our aim in multi-racial countries is to build communities which protect minority rights and are free of all discrimination on grounds of race or colour.” (They daren’t add “or creed” because the vicious discrimination practised by the semi-Fascist Conservative government of Northern Ireland against the Catholic minority is well known.) “If democracy is to be secured, education must underpin the franchise; and the rapid expansion of education is the Commonwealth’s most pressing need; we will play a leading part in financing the new Commonwealth scheme of exchange scholarships and fellowships.”

As regards the finance of the colonies, the Conservatives say, “Further British capital will be made available through loans and grants for sound Commonwealth development.” The operative word is sound. Sound in whose estimation? Sound because it would reduce colonial dependence on imports from, say the U.K. (e.g. the implementation of the cement project) or sound because it would lead to fat overseas contracts for British firms which would thus channel much of the grants and loans back into the U.K. Treasury in the form of taxation on profits earned?

The Labour Party, in its manifesto, points out the truth that “Two worlds, one white, well-fed and free, the other coloured, hungry and struggling for equality, cannot live side by side in friendship.” (A truth as applicable to the microcosm of Mauritius as to the macrocosm of the world.) The three principles of Labour’s colonial policy are reaffirmed: “First, that the peoples still under colonial rule have as much right as we have to be governed by consent; secondly, that one man, one vote applies in all parts of the world; thirdly, that racial discrimination must be abolished.” The pledge is repeated “to devote an average of 1 per cent of our national income each year to helping the under-developed areas.”

In a Penguin book specially written and published for the occasion, Mr Roy Jenkins expands the Labour Party’s proposals for small colonies such as Mauritius (which in fact he names specifically). He says that the Labour Party’s proposals in its pamphlets The Plural Society and The Smaller Territories still stand: that a small colony such as Mauritius shall be elevated to the style of Dominion, with full internal self-government. Its government will have the power to decide the basis of the Dominion’s associations as regards external affairs. The Dominion might choose to let the U.K. run its external affairs for it; or it might throw in its lot, as regards external affairs, with some convenient territory, perhaps Commonwealth, perhaps not (analogy the Ghana Guinea Union). Thus Mauritius might choose to be associated with the U.K., or with Australia, or with India or Ceylon, or (very improbably) with South Africa or Kenya, as far as external relations were concerned. But it is clear that Labour’s principle of government by consent points to the people of the colonies affected being responsible for the determination of their future. The Conservative proposals, on the other hand, make it clear that colonies will have their future decided for them by the U.K. and its “partners” — i.e. Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Ghana; which are the only “partners” in the Commonwealth. In brief, Labour says “Decide your own future”; but the Conservatives say “You’re going to have your future decided for you.” Clearly the interests of the colonial people will best be served by a Labour victory.

6th Year – No 268
Friday 2nd October, 1959

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 19 April 2024

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