LALIT supports the neighbourhood committees grouped with the Mouvement pour le progrès de Roche-Bois that objected to the L’Express Dimanche 7 April article that stigmatises Roche-Bois. These committees have put their finger on a deep social pathology that seems to grow by the day inside the once-respectable L’Express.
We will start from the offending article. But on the same day, the whole of L’Express Dimanche betrays, on closer examination, a thoroughly colonial disdain for almost everyone else in Mauritius – just as though they were colonizers in their own country, looking down on the “locals” – in other offending articles.
There is no excuse for this assault against Roche-Bois. The article is actually signed “La Redaction” meaning the editors had read it and specifically stand by it. There has to our knowledge been no proper apology. L’Express Dimanche stigmatises a whole neighbourhood just by the main title alone: “Roche-Bois: la Cité du ‘nisa’”. It is, for a start, a Page One main banner headline. And yet it has neither news value nor content value. It is linked tangentially with a Question in Parliament five days earlier put by an MP for Port Louis Maritime and Port Louis East. The title attacks Cité Roche-Bois (by juxtaposing “Roche-Bois” and “Cite”). In fact, Cité Roche Bois is a respectable neighbourhood and always has been. For some reason, the Press and the elites use the phrase “Cite Roche-Bois” as short-hand for the underclass of the whole of Mauritius, or even as a communal symbol.
Why L’Express Dimanche should use this shorthand for class and race prejudice or even publish this kind of article at all is mysterious. Is the aim just to titillate readers? To supposedly sell more newspapers? To get LIKES on Facebook once the article is shared? By making everything into a scandal? Or making readers feel superior to those treated with such disdain? Or what?
Roche-Bois and Batterie Cassée are conflated and are then referred to as feral places: “les loups sortent du bois”, there are “corbeaux” waiting to give “coups de bec”, “oiseaux de mauvaise augure”, and “le ‘nid’” that “le parrain” operates from. There is pervasive animal imagery. Half terrifying, half mocking. What kind of journalism is this anyway, when writing about drug addiction? The problem in any case is nation-wide; it is cross-class; and it spans the urban-rural divide. It is not something that can be stamped out by inciting repression – either repression in general, or against any one neighbourhood in particular – as this article seems to be doing. Would the journalists write about the street where their own house is in this way? Has L’Express, despite its recent and salutary Mea Culpa, not learnt the lessons of its past incitement, after the Concert in 1999, for the police to go arrest people like Kaya who smoked gandia? The article about “Roche-Bois” is written so trashily that it does not even ring true. And it is so useless that it doesn’t even bother, should it be a bona fide report, to offer insight into policy changes that might be useful – like, say, organizing easier access to methadone treatment, decriminalizing gandia (which, it is in their favour, the newspaper has gradually come around to) or simply proper job creation.
And as for using the Kreol word for pleasure and ultimate enjoyment, “nisa”, as the term for a sordidly described “high” from hard drugs, this too is colonial reduction of a word with a whole range of meanings in a language of the oppressed to something carnally base. Look at the richness of the words in Kenneth Nelson’s song Tora Tora, where “nisa” is about music and dance and food as well as smoking a joint, a whole cultural experience in the lyrics about “nisas”: “Mwa, mo’si mo kontan nisa, Twa To’si To kontan nisa, Li osi li kontan nisa.” In the L’Express Dimanche article “nisa” is just part of the communal trope against spendthrift labourers, usually from the countryside, who waste their money on “nisa, jalsa, paysa” – another shorthand that moralists bandy about in particular when referring to lower classes, and using words supposedly “tainted” by being derived from Bhojpuri, the language with the lowest status of all.
But now, look at the article on Page One just under the one titled “Roche-Bois: La Cité du ‘nisa’”. It has a picture of a dog inset into an artist’s view of the Jin Fei planned new city that Chinese workers are busy constructing. The title to this second scurrilous article is “Est-ce qu’on chaw-chaw* les toutous a Jin Fei?” So, this picks up on a trope against Chinese workers. Throw together “Chaw-chaw” and “Jin Fei” and that dead dogs are the “oeuvre des ouvriers etrangers” and journalists attack a whole group of people, from the dizzy heights of their self-awarded superiority. These workers, L’Express Dimanche implies, eat peoples’ pet dogs or toutous, the title implies. Or maybe, the article implies, just injure them for fun. The article is not clear on that. Just in case L’Express Dimanche readers do not know what chaw-chaw means – it conveniently happens to sound Chinese – the journalist has used an asterisk plus two foot-notes, one inserted into the photo and another at the end of the article: “Chaw-Chaw: mange”. The article begins: “Les plus folles rumeurs courent depuis des années à ce sujet. Et elles enflent depuis qu’une video a été postée sur Facebook, vendredi.” So, it is rumours that their Page One title is referring to, now “proven” by a video on Facebook. This suffices for L’Express Dimanche to stigmatise all the workers there. Again we have to say it, there are also strong communal overtones.
Underneath this article, where it continues on page 5, is yet another group of people being stigmatised: “Ces Malgaches qui travaillent au noir pour arrondir leurs fins de mois.” They are, the article says, very cagey. “Il faut brouiller les pistes, ils souhaitent garder l’anonymat le plus complet... Ils travaillent au noir ...” But then again, like slaves long ago, “Ils sont habitués aux intempéries, à la canicule.” As L’Express mentions, they work away “Sous une pluie battante”. The article is as-if poking fun at immigration or even slavery – long ago slavery and today’s “slavery” – even quoting, or rather misquoting, the lullaby from slave times: “Il faut bien travailler pour gagner son pain”. Again, it is not clear whether the article, during an obvious build-up in immigration crack-downs by the repressive Jugnauth regime, is designed to instigate further repression against people working without the necessary papers.
Page 1, has another title, this time designed to titillate: “Rencontre Insolite: Portrait d’un voleur de culottes”. This scurrilous article is about a 21 year-old named as “Imraz”. Nothing is serious for L’Express Dimanche. Imraz’s neighbour “l’attrapé la main dans le string, alors qu’il emportait le tiroir rempli de culottes”. We even read, “l’acte est culotté certes”. And despite all this cruel hype and cheap ribaldry rolled into one, the author admits that the man accused is, in fact, a timid young man, “renfermé, farouche”. But clearly to them he is someone without feelings. His social class is so much lower than these refined elitists of L’Express Dimanche that he has no heart that could be broken by suffering this public mockery. So, the L’Express is prepared to attack someone with a psychological problem, and to do this even when they write that he and his family are afraid he will be harmed by other villagers. They continue gaily, that “le ‘butin’ qu’avait emporté Imraz – soit les culottes et les soutiens-gorge ... – a été découverte sur un terrain vague [and then for local colour] ou poussent des papayers.” And they sign off, “Le mot de la fin: Imraz a-t-il une copine? ‘Oui, avoue-t-il. Est-ce qu’il lui vole ses sous-vetements? Non ...” The newspaper can mean nothing else but: Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. Again, there is a communal prejudice implied in the article, just by the first name they allot to the young man. The article is too cruel to bear.
Equally shocking in its lack of human decency, another front page headline reads: “Vol de Rs 1 million: ‘Complice’ de sa maman: Giovanni, 13 ans, trois arrestations”. Described as, “Il est tout frele ... Il a 13 ans, on lui en donnerait facilement 10”, and, as if it is funny, he is described as “connait les tribunaux presque comme sa poche.” Why this legereté at the expense of a child? He is described as being in a “gang”, but then it turns out from the article that he was in fact used by the adults because he is small. “Il y est d’abord entré par une imposte et a permis a ses comperes et a sa mere de voler”. Yet, the child is being mocked in the article as if he were the ring-leader. Even children – though not the journalists’ own children – are not credited with human decency.
Under the page 7 article on Giovanni, there is another article about a couple that robbed another Rs 1 million, this time from a supermarket. The article begins with the ridiculous, cheap phrase: “C’est beau l’amour.” Yes, it is a comic love story between a “mere” supermarket-employee and her mere “‘coco cheri’ qui habite quatre-Cocos.” Lowly people from lowly rural areas. Pun. Pun. Pun. Joke. Joke. Joke. Presumably guilty before trial.
The pun is the lowest form of humour, as the saying goes. Only those extremely skilled, including the grand maître Shakespeare, can use puns without making a fool of themselves. Indeed the L’Express Dimanche journalists do make themselves a laughing stock in being so incontinent with puns, even on serious subjects.
Nothing is above mockery for the colonizers’ jokes in the L’Express Dimanche. Even rape charges don’t prevent their silly, clichéd phrases – this time Biblical – that mock someone they describe as a victim of rape. “Elle ne le connaissait ni d’Eve ni d’Adam, selon ses dires, mais a été seduite par sa gentillesse ....” He gave her a cigarette that drugged her, the article says, and then, “Elle se trouvait alors dans le lit de l’acccusé, sans meme une feuille de vigne pour cacher son intimité.” Is this funny? What is the article implying?
There are other articles that demand the same scrutiny for colonial disdain, in the very same edition of the newspaper: One headed “Bouncers: Jungle de Grand-Baie: Les gorilles font la loi”. Again mocking a lowly job. Again, there are puns of a feral nature throughout. One woman is described as having been in her “cage” all week at the office, and then there is a “Baloo”, and then “les singeries d’un gorille qui fait des grimaces”, “un King Kong en rut” and also “sardines” and “thon” (sad and childish pun for a boite de nuit?) To make their colonial attitude all the more clear, the authors actually refer to “Tarzan, Jane, Mowgli” (the ultimate in a colonial narrative) and “un petit safari alcoolisé” (in case you didn’t get it). The journalists see themselves as colon hitting the low life in Mauritius in their texts, as if they were hitting the jungle of the Empire they think they run. The reach of the supremacist ideology of Donald Trump is very long. In fact, it goes right up to the redaction pages of L’Express Dimanche.
We, in LALIT, appeal to L’Express Dimanche editors and journalists to have more respect for the poor and working class people of the country in writing and editing their articles. We suggest that after every article they draft, they might try just replacing the main characters with their own name or identity or that of a close friend or relative, with people from their own entourage, and see if the words chosen still respect basic human decency.
We believe that it is possible to be satiric and witty without being colonial towards the people of Mauritius you write about, in particular those without much power in society. There are two or three top cartoonists in Mauritius who manage it. They turn out witty satire almost every day without insulting the broad masses of ordinary Mauritian people, and without all manner of communal and class prejudice being played upon with such arrogance. In short, the caricaturists feel themselves to be part of Mauritian society and do not adopt the viewpoint of a superior colonial power.
We congratulate the MPRB and other associations for astutely and bravely drawing attention to this abuse of the power by the media. And we call on the journalists to discuss the issue amongst themselves, and to realize the hurt that their words, used against the powerless or the relatively powerless in society, can cause.
LALIT, 18 April 2019
Edited 19 April, 2019