On Independence Day 12 March, LALIT held a party conference on Housing and Land Use in the Context of Independence and in the year of an election. The event was presided by Alain Ah-Vee, who gave an introductory speech on the history of LALIT’s involvement in the housing issue over time – from an early electoral manifesto, through our setting up Muvman Lakaz until today in the Joint Committees and now “pivot” meetings. Muvman Lakaz was a powerful mass organization of homeless people and squatters, LALIT’s seminal ability to bring together the building workers being sacked from the Central Housing Authority and people left without houses, as the MSM-MMM Government closed down social housing in 1992-3 by phasing out the CHA. Even then, some LALIT branches set up Joint LALIT-Inhabitants’ Committees, in parallel with Muvman Lakaz. These then in 2018 were set up all over the country in some 45 different asbestos housing estates.
Rada Kistnasamy gave a paper on the history of housing, which taken in this long view is really interesting – from the time of slavery, through indenture and till the end of colonization, right up to today. There was first tied housing under slavery and indenture, which lived on until very recently, and still lives on in Poudre d’Or and in domestic employment. It makes for terrible precariousness in that when you lose your job, you and your family not only lose your income, but also your housing. But, in the times of slavery and indenture, the boss had to provide housing. That was the very logic of the labour law of slavery and indenture. Then gradually from the colonial times, first Municipalities then the State through the CHA and Sugar Industry Welfare Fund, built rented housing. This meant no down-payment, and no fights amongst heirs over the house. Then, from the late 1990’s Government decided that people should be home-owners, and basically you have to put up a down-payment, then become an “owner” and then do repayments for nearly the rest of your life. This phase has led to the mendacity of Government, aided and abetted by Statistics Mauritius, maintaining the fiction that 9 out of 10 people are home-owners, when in fact a substantial proportion of people are living in housing where they have fewer rights than a tenant. Mauritians call is “lakaz zeritye”. This means, generations stack up, nobody wanting to leave a tiny bit of land with a very small house, in case they lose their “share” of “inheritance”. One or two tragic cases were cited: a woman is afraid to speak up too loudly about asbestos housing because she was the wife of just one heir to the house and her husband was murdered during a fight about the land-and-house by another of the four heirs, who is still in prison for murder. All the actors in this drama still live in close proximity in this “lakaz zeritye” and are all called “home owners” by Government. In another tragic case, a woman was murdered because she had used her house as collateral for a debt, as is her right, but one of her sons thought he was being done out of “his” house. This is the predictable outcome of the Napoleonic Code “forced heirs” system that Mauritius inherited from French colonization.
Rajni Lallah presented a paper on the use of land and sea, and on the democratic control over the territory of a country. She began, it being Independence Day, with the findings in the International Court of Justice at The Hague on the Chagos issue, whereby Mauritian territory is still now, 51 years after Independence, being defined for the first time. We must ensure democratic control over all our land-and-sea, she said. The selling off of sugar estate land, subsidized en passant by the State, i.e. by our VAT money, is another case in point. We must demand and gain democratic control over all the territory of the country, so that we can harness it for proper job creation, for food security and for housing and public space for people to enjoy life in, she added.
Debate was very interesting, and ended up in putting forward a number of demands, inter alia:
- That the Government immediately sets up a public Register of Those Who Need Housing, housing for families, single-parent families and single people, because their present figures are falsified by them not including those who have fallen into despair, those who are supposedly already home-owners because they live in a house with other adult heirs, those without deposit money, or without pay slips, or even if they have pay slips without permanent work but only one-year contracts, and so on.
- That the Government immediately, as they open the Register, add to its housing program (NHDC and NEF), a “lease” or “rent” option for those who want to avoid the stress of risking creating more “heirs’ housing”, who prefer lease or rental, or who do not have enough money for a deposit.
- That the Government immediately publishes a Communiqué that states publicly what it is planning to solve the asbestos housing problem.
- That Statistics Mauritius takes its responsibility and finds out for Government how many people actually do have housing – owned or rented – and how many are living in all the fraught dangers of “heirs housing” and that it at once stop inflating “multiple heirs” with “home-owners”, thus contributing to Government’s negligence in not providing social housing.
and in the context of land use,
- That Government once again set up a Ministry of the Plan, and take its responsibility to use the land and sea for job creation and for production of all kinds in food preservation and processing and in fishing for export and for food security, and for housing and amenities for the public, and stop relying on the capitalists of the ex-sugar estates to do town and country planning in their barren interests.
- That the Government, following ICJ judgment and in the interests of territorial integrity, at once calls for the military base on Diego Garcia to be closed down.
- That the Government set up constituencies for both Agalega and Chagos with an MP each,
- That all Ports in the Republic of Mauritius be closed to war-ships i.e. Port Louis, Agalega, Diego Garcia, St Brandon, Port Mathurin.