“The Government has sold us dangerous houses”, says the banner at the Richelieu Housing Estate, while mothers and children gather round lighting candles last night, 26 March at Rue Jeanne d’Arc.
“This is the beginning of a new phase,” says Laval Yves of the committee, “to confront the Government”.
“People are calling for Government to demolish these dangerous houses, and build new ones”, says Mario Maudarbaccus.
All the engineers who have looked at the houses unanimously say that there is nothing to be done but demolition and re-building.
The banner was formally tied up with bright ribbons on the corrugated iron in front of one of the houses.
“We are not here to cut ribbons for the TV”, said Lindsey Collen, “we are here to tie up a banner with ribbons!”
Everyone in Cite Richelieu began to crowd around. Each day, the banner will move to another house, as a warning to the Government, Kisna Kistnasamy said.
“When a bit of ceiling collapsed in my house, it made a terrible noise,” says Carmen, “I thought my nephew, who lives with a disability, had fallen down!”
“Look at all these buckets and plastic bowls,” says Angelique, “because after rain, the rooms all leak everywhere like a sieve. It is so hard to keep a bed dry. See the plastic? We have had to abandon this room,” she shows journalists, “It’s like living in a haunted house.”
“Do you know how many cupboards and wooden bedsteads I’ve had to throw away, rotten with water damage?” says Marie-Therese.
“That’s why we have been running this campaign,” says Mario. “It took us two years just to get a written reply, in which the Ministry of Housing’s took a stand on the houses. We had to go to the Ombudsman in Port Louis,” says Suzie, “Marie-Therese and I, in everyone’s names. Then it took him 6 months to wrench a simple reply from the Ministry. We only got it earlier this month. And the reply is that the Ministry is washing its hands of the houses!”
This reply has sparked off a new phase in the struggle. Now that the Ministry has finally been forced to acknowledge receipt of the string of petitions, individual letters, protests that have been constant over the past two years, and to come forward and, in this letter, wash its hands in writing of any responsibility, it is time to accuse the Government of gross negligence by supplying defective housing.
The issue at Richelieu is one of the issues. Another, which concerns 59 housing estates, is the dangerous asbestos walls. In these estates, too, people are mobilizing. The State has not only publicly announced it will start a rolling process of “demolition-reconstruction”, but it even put aside a budget. And then has done nothing whatsoever. The only move has been for some NGOs with CSR money to proceed very much in disorder on this work, choosing people on communal grounds, leaving the bits of asbestos lying around so that children end up tobogganing on them, while adults might think they make a good fence separation.
Meanwhile, Pravind Jugnauth’s Government gives millions of concessions to millionaires and billionaires from abroad for their housing. The Government gives more tax concessions to million dollar villas in Integrated Resort Schemes, paying for whole motorways, than it spends on proper housing for working people and poor people.
The LALIT joint committees in twelve regions are preparing to change this. The second phase of this movement began last night, 26 March in Richelieu.