Princess Margaret’s visit

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

It is impossible truthfully to approve of the arrangements made for the visit of H.R.H. Princess Margaret to Mauritius. Her three days are largely taken up with official receptions, a garden party, a race meeting, and so on. Hardly any of H.R.H’s. time is given to seeing the People of Mauritius, how they live and work and are educated.

The first morning of her three days in Mauritius: Inspect the guard of honour, go to Government House and meet M.L.C’s and their wives, tour Port Louis, lay a foundation stone, drive to Le Réduit via Beau Bassin and Rose Hill. All this adds up to not much time for the tour of Port Louis! I hope, however, that when H.R.H. is at Cassis to lay the foundation stone of the new Royal College School buildings, she will insist on going the extra 200 yards into Cassis to see for herself the squalid shanties that her sister’s loyal subjects are condemned to live in.

Although it is doubtless very fitting that H.R.H. should see the Queen Elizabeth secondary school for girls, it would be more fitting if she were also to see something of the dreadful over-crowded schools in which Mauritian children have to pass their primary school days. I would suggest the notorious Camp Masson school; or perhaps the Catholic primary schools at Nicolay Road, Pamplemousses Road and Petit Raffray.

The biggest tragedy of the Royal Tour is, however, the proposed afternoon at the race meeting at Champ de Mars. This is a tragedy because race meetings at the Champ de Mars embody all that is worst in the colour bar in Mauritius. Hugh Massingham in the Observer of 12 Aug 1956 referred to racing crowds at Brighton: “one cannot help feeling that something is wrong… The days when racing was the sport of a small, rich circle have gone, but the authorities still behave as if our coarse tumultuous democracy did not exist. It is high time they did something about it.” And this criticism applies equally forcefully to racing in Mauritius. The coloured and Indian population contribute to the income of the Clubs and have no say in anything to do with the control of racing. Racing in Mauritius is the preserve of one section of the population; and in attending a race meeting, Princess Margaret is all unknowingly giving support to the reactionaries.

It is, indeed, high time that some light was shed on racing in Mauritius. There are two racing clubs — the Turf Club and the Jockey Club. Each year they both import racehorses from England and France. These horses are farmed out to one or other of the six recognised stables (Ecuries). The Clubs provide the horses and make advances to the stables which are finally reimbursed at the end of the racing season. These jockeys are flown or brought by ship to Mauritius from Australia and France with their passages paid. For some reasons the jockeys are white! Why is this? During the war, Mauritians rode as jockeys when whites could not come; why cannot Mauritians ride nowadays? And why should the white jockeys be paid five and six times as much as the Mauritian jockeys were paid in wartime? Even though the nabobs of the Clubs are colour conscious, there can surely be no suggestion that horses have a colour bar too?

Anyway, there has been racing in Mauritius for a century — long enough to establish a tradition of Mauritian jockeyship.

The shady side of racing is also a sore point. Doping horses is the bane of racing everywhere; but in Mauritius there seems little being done to stamp it out. In England, when there is a case of doping horses, both the horse and trainer are disqualified for an indefinite period. In actual fact, of course, the horse is disqualified for life; and the trainer can be reinstated only at the discretion of the stewards of the Jockey Club. But what happens in Mauritius (where the Turf is affiliated to the Jockey Club of Great Britain without however following the same rules)? In Mauritius a doped horse is made to run the next day and no action is taken against trainer or nominator. Recently, two horses died on a race day, presumably due to excessive doping. A groom was arrested and confessed to having administered a powder given to him by another man. That man was also arrested and he implicated yet another person.

Apart from the matter of doping, which could surely be settled if the Turf Club adopted the same rigorous rules as the English Jockey Club and disqualified trainers for long periods if any of their horses were doped, the question of ownership of the racehorses is fantastic. In effect, with the Clubs importing all the racehorses and farming them out to six licensed stables, it means that despite the apparent different ownership of the horses, all the horses are actually under the same ownership! So whichever horse wins in a race, the prize money goes to refund the advances made by the Clubs. There can surely be no other country in the world, outside the Iron Curtain, where such a state of affairs exists.

It is estimated that sweepstakes, pools, betting, lotteries and gate money bring half a million rupees a year to the Club. Most of this money comes from the Coloured and Indian sections of the population who are, however, denied membership of the Club. The Turf Club is a jealously guarded preserve; it is a tragedy that the Governor and M.L.C.’s give apparent countenance to such a state of affairs. How do they? The Governor does so by accepting an invitation to become a patron of the Club, M.L.C.’s do so by accepting free tickets for race meetings for themselves and their wives. The Champ de Mars belongs to the municipality of Port Louis — it is thus public property — and is leased to the Turf Club. Cannot the municipality refuse any longer to lease the ground unless the colour bar is sincerely and completely abolished? Cannot the Governor and the M.L.C.’s boycott meetings as long as the colour bar is enforced? Of course they can; but now, alas! Her Royal Highness is attending the preserves of the reactionary elite whose proud position is due to the colour of their skin and not to any real superiority.

It is indeed, as has been said before, a matter of extreme gravity that the coloured people should continue to be treated as undesirables when they provide, from their slender purses, the rupees to replenish the purse of the Clubs, rendering them wealthy and able to perpetrate and perpetuate racial discrimination.

* Published in print edition on 12 October 2018

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