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Slavery, Reparations and Statues


Sylvio Michel's way of taking up the reparation-for-slavery struggle was opportunist from the start. He offers individuals, who may be very poor, the hope that, if they follow him, they will get money. This is not real reparations, as French Deputy Christiane Taubira accurately pointed out during her visit for the commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery.

However, real reparations are very much due. In fact they are overdue.

Long before Sylvio Michel took up and did a disservice to the issue, Lalit was already in the world-wide movement for proper reparations. In Mauritius this culminated, in 1995, in one of the biggest petitions in Mauritian history being signed up and then submitted to the President of the Republic, and to the heads of State of the British, French and Dutch colonizing powers. This petition contains all the demands that today we should be mobilizing around if we want to continue to show our condemnation of slavery.

Reparations to who?

The first "working class" that produced surplus for the ruling class and for the colonial bosses was an economic class called "slaves". That is to say the real ancestors of the present working class are the slaves. This means that it is the working class, as a whole, that constitutes the true "descendents of slaves". This is a verifiable political and economic statement. Many of the same work-practices from slavery still exist today, even the organization of work in the fields and of domestic labour, as if to prove the link as a fact. It is only our malady of seeing the world through the distortion of ethno-communal "glasses" that stops us seeing the real historical processes.

The intermediate social ancestors between the working class, and slaves were indentured labourers.

The importance of this historical analysis of reality is that it points to who should be compensated for the crime against humanity that slavery was.

Reparations must go to the working class as a whole, to all those living under the framework of present-day "wage slavery", that is to say the direct descendants of those who lived under the framework of "indenture slavery" who were, in turn, the direct descendants of those living under the framework of "actual slavery". The links are still there in many institutions and even in laws. The Labour Inspectorate and Industrial Court, for example, are the direct descendants of the "Protector of Immigrants" and the Stipendiary Magistrates, which were the direct descendants of the "Protector of Slaves" and the Stipendiary Magistrates in the times of slavery.

Lalit way of proceeding in locating who should be paid reparations helps us escape what Doudou Dienne of UNESCO describes as "the worst heritage of slavery still existing today" i.e. race and communal classification. Whereas Sylvio Michel's way increases this negative "sequel" of race and communal classification.

The reparations should be spent, as the thousands or people who supported the petition demanded, on health and housing programmes and for the educational advancement, in its broadest sense, of all poor and working class neighbourhoods and areas, but without any recall to the perpetuation of race or ethnic classification of indiviuals.

Who should pay?

The class of "slave labour" was maintained not only by Mauritian companies but also by the draconian repression of successive colonial States: the Dutch, the French, the British. They owe the money. The ancestry of these States is clear. Their States are continuous.

Where should they raise the money to pay reparations from? The petition in 1995 was clear on this, too. We should adopt it as a "charter".

These governments should tax, not the poor and working people of their countries, but the companies and corporations that benefitted from slavery and from the slave trade. These companies have "family trees" and "genealogical" records of their own, that show which of the present-day companies descended from the companies at the time of slavery. The capital can be traced by any trained accountant. In fact, much of the research into Tate and Lyle in Liverpool, for example, has already been started.

The Les Verts and other apologists for race-based reparations also sometimes make the mistake of placing blame on individual people who are known to be biological descendents of slave-owners. What must be done instead of this inhuman process of blaming blood-descendents for the sins of their forfathers, is to look at the companies that are descended from companies that benefitted from slavery, slave labour, and slave compensation money. These companies should then be taxed by the Mauritian Government, to add to the tax collected in the imperialist countries from their benefitting companies.

And Statues?

Reparation should also be made for slavery by indeed removing the statue of the symbol of slave-owners, Adrien D'Epinay, from its place of honour plumb in the middle of the Company Gardens. Whether it is placed in some insignificant part of a museum, with a new plaque describing his role in defending the economic interests of slave-owners or removed altogether to some store from which it can be brought out for the odd exhibition on the slave-owning classes, can be debated. This is what is done with statues of fascist dictators; they are destroyed or downgraded, depending on how much people hated them afterwards. Those who upheld crimes against humanity like slavery should, through their statues, be meted out history's judgement.

There are a number of other statues that are in line for transfer and new inscriptions.

Meanwhile, in the late 1970's a group of young people did try, as Josie Lebrasse mentioned on 5 February, to saw D'Epinay off his bolts. They didn't succeed. But ordinary people in Mauritius, in their wisdom, have already invented all sorts of wonderful jokes, what one statue is saying to another, that bring statues down a peg or two in other ways. Most of the jokes are not to be repeated in a daily newspaper, but so many people already know them that it doesn't matter. Ordinary people have already condemned the pompous statues of slave-owners and their ilk by showering them with ridicule.

Lindsey Collen


February, 2006