Hundreds of people from literally every faraway village in Mauritius demonstrated in Port Louis Friday 6 July at lunch-time. They arrived by the lively group from the morning for a gathering first.
Organized in a new series of neighbourhood structures, whereby LALIT Regionals and Branches have set up “Joint Committees” with the inhabitants of the Housing Estate in the neighbourhood, a grassroots movement that Mauritius has not seen for perhaps 30 years has been born. For the gathering and march people took the day off work. Women outnumbered men at the demonstration, by many times over, having taken up this most difficult issue: housing. Groups arrived having prepared their own banners, stating the name of the housing estate they come from. They organized to travel to Port Louis in groups on ordinary buses. Remote villages set their own meeting points at the bus-stop as early as 7:00 am for the ten o’clock rendezvous for the gathering in Port Louis before the march. Some people had contributed and organized their own 16-place mini-buses to transport them. One older lady from Le Morne Village, whose friends had advised her not to come because she walks with difficulty and only with a walking stick, arrived in Port Louis, laughing. Two groups got lost in Port Louis on the way to the Social Centre in St Georges Avenue from the bus stations, so unused are any of them to navigating the capital city. When they rang on mobile phones, LALIT members told them to stay put at a landmark, and ran a few city blocks to meet them and guide them to the Social Centre.
It was a loud and colourful and surprisingly uplifting event – especially given the sombre nature of the demand: “Government, go ahead with your announced project ‘de grand l’envergure’ to demolish our asbestos housing that is increasingly dangerous to our families’ health as the panels age, get rain damage, and turn to dust, and re-build a concrete house for each occupier, as the State finally announced in 2015 that it would!” The formal demand was that the Prime Minister announce a time-frame for the demolition-reconstruction, phase-by-phase, and set up regional “desks” so people can register and then follow progress themselves. The atmosphere of the gathering and march was characterized by a feeling of relief, and almost happiness, in an atmosphere of gathering strength. After years, even decades, of each mother and each father worrying all alone at night about the risks to health they know only too well that asbestos carries for their families, and having tried every means of remedying this situation, once they came together for the event, at long last this heavy weight seemed to lift from their shoulders: each person present was united with others from their own housing estate in a planned action, and then they saw people from housing estates all over the country, carrying their own banners or pancartes. This uniting gave such dignity to each person present.
Here is a list of the Cité present. (If there is one left out, please inform a LALIT member, and we will correct the omission!)
Cité La Chaux (two estates)
Cité EDC Rose-Belle
Cité Plaine Magien (two estates)
Cité EDC Pamplemousses
Cité Bel Ombre
Cité Case Noyale
Cité Camp Diable
Cité Bois Cheri
Cité Ste Catherine
Riviere des Galets
Souillac (two estates)
Camp de Masque Pavé
Vieux Grand Port
Cité La Ferme
Cité Richlieu (housing built dangerously because of defective upright structures)
Goodlands (two estates)
Cité Telfair (Moka)
Plaine des Papayes.
Although LALIT did not have any contacts in Montagne Longue, serendipitously there was a man from that EDC housing estate who happened to be in Port Louis, and joined in. He has offered to help LALIT organize a joint committee there. That means we have joint committees, or the embryos of a joint committee, in 47 of the 59 EDC housing estates that have asbestos as the main construction material. Some 3,000 families are affected.
Another aspect of the gathering and the demonstration, itself, that was uplifting was the constant reference by speakers (and on a banner at the social centre and on some of the pancartes) to the broader issues: the general inadequacy of the States’ public housing policy, everyone’s right to a house, the huge numbers of families living in overcrowded “heirs’ housing” (due to the combination of the closing down of the Central Housing Authority in 1992 and the old Napoleonic forced heirs laws) and the Government’s indecent subsidy on rich peoples’ villas, while poor peoples’ housing is neglected. Speakers linked the neglect of working people on housing estaes while Sugar Estate bosses and multi-millionaires from all over the world get Government subsidies in the form of motorways and get given every imaginable tax-cut, while a huge proportion of Mauritian working people live in over-crowding, and in the case of asbestos and bad construction, in dangerous housing. (For details on this latter dangerous housing, you can do a simple search of our site using the key word “Richelieu”.)
When the march got to the Company Gardens, everyone gathered around the Kiosk, and delegated 6 people, two LALIT members, Rajni Lallah and Rada Kistnasamy, and one delegate from each region of Mauritius, to go and leave all the individual letters, together with their attachments, at the Prime Ministers’ Office. People gathered around informally in the garden, meeting, eating a pair of dal puri, awaiting a report-back, after which everyone dispersed, on a general enthusiastic chant of “Lalit kontinye!”
Speakers at the gatherings included Rajni Lallah, Kisna Kistnasamy, Alain Ah-Vee, Rada Kistnasamy and Lindsey Collen. Press, radio and TV were present, interviewing people from the asbestos housing, from the housing without uprights, and Lalit members like Anne-Marie Joly on asbestos, and Laval Yves on the badly built concrete houses in Richelieu.
Reeaz Chuttoo, known for his long trade union struggle against asbestos at the work place, was present at the gathering and the march, in a delegation from the CTSP including Jane Ragoo and Berthy Beeharee. Atma Shunto of the FTU came to the gathering, in support.
An experienced photographer present said he had not photographed a demonstration like this since, he believes, the early 1980s. LALIT organizers had expected 100-150 families to participate in the demonstration. The remarkable variety of people and the number of housing estates represented, as well as the sheer numbers of women and men present, all surprised organizers, the Press and passers by. Where La Chaussee meets the Company Gardens, the stopped cars hooted in support of the demonstration. Someone overheard a secret service man saying sotto voce to another, “We hadn’t predicted this size demonstration”, as though they might get shouted at.
Even the weather was ideal. Though a winter rain had fallen early in the morning, later it turned out to be a glorious sunny winters’ day.
For video reports of the demonstration, please click on “Videos” on the LALIT home page. There are 3 or 4 reports from mainstream media.
By 8 July, the letter to the Prime Minister and its attachments making up a full dossier will be available in the Documents Section of our site.