Dear LALIT Web-Site Visitor,
As the end of the year approaches and we all prepare messages of happiness and prosperity for everyone in the New Year, we have decided to write to "thinking people" like yourself to ask you to spare a thought for where Mauritian society is headed.
Everyone knows there are serious problems in the country. They have been threatening for decades, and, having been ignored, have now become one big systemic crisis. LALIT began the warning that is now in this letter in a campaign in 1984 called "Disik, Ki Lavenir?" So this is not one of those run-of-the-mill economic crises that is part of ordinary chaotic capitalism, but an organic crisis that will shake the whole of society to its roots. People at all levels of society know this instinctively, as unemployment coupled with no vision for the future, gets so bad that it provokes panic emigration again, as it did in the 1970's.
It is dangerous to try to resolve such a terrible economically-based crisis by pretending that the poverty ensuing from the crisis is an ethno-religious problem. It is not.
Nor will it, therefore, help if we follow Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam and Opposition Leader Paul Berenger as they turn away from the consensus of replacing the communal Best Loser System, and as they start to follow Fathers Gregoire and Fanchette down the dangerous road of the politics of further classifying people into more detailed ethnic and religious groups. Before his meeting, Father Gregoire had clearly said that he would be happy if all communal appellations were done away with altogether in the Constitution. Why do Dr. Ramgoolam and Mr. Berenger not follow him down this path instead?
People seem to forget, when they comment about communities that are "recognized in the Constitution", as they put it, that the only reason there is mention of so-called "community" in the Constitution (and it is not in the Constitution proper but in its infamous Schedule I) is for the purposes of the totally discredited Best Loser System. The recognition is for nothing but the worst bit of institutionalized communalism in the country.
Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam cedes to the demand to change the words General Population in the infamous Schedule to Creoles and other Christians, saying "I am sympathetic to the request and there is merit in the proposal". (Week-End 9 Dec 07)
Opposition Leader Paul Berenger, of course, goes further, to "salue le langage unitaire du Pere Gregoire" (sic) and says "Pas d'objection au remplacement de l'appellation Population Generale" par "Creole et autres chretiens" (Week-End 4 Nov 07). We say "of course" because he has constistently battled for the preservation of the BLS, even if it meant making a fool of himself in the instructions he gave Albie Sachs, or being roundly denounced by all women in the country when he introduced a draft Bill, when he was Prime Minister in 2005, with the aim of extending the BLS to women.
Navin Ramgoolam, marginally to his credit, adds "However, the House will surely appreciate there are far reaching constitutional implications for our electoral process [for such an amendment] and [it] should be seen also in the wider context of electoral reform. The proposal requires a careful and thorough study."
But, in any case, the real problem is not ethno-religious. Let us face it squarely.
THE REAL PROBLEMS PEOPLE FACE
For thirty years now, people in skilled trades have gradually seen their work destroyed by bigger businesses. "Work destroyed" means "means of survival" destroyed. It is serious. The Bata factory, which destroyed the vast majority of shoemakers over 30 years ago, has now in turn been destroyed by international competition. Free zone factories that destroyed tailors and dressmakers by the dozen, are now, in turn, being destroyed by cheaper production abroad and by delocalization. The World Trade Organization does not allow for the Government subsidies that used to sustain the Free Zone. The workers laid off are now without work. This is the case in the towns as in the countryside. Without any discrimination as to community, workers have been laid off. The import-substitution factories, also affected by WTO laws, are closing down, one by one. Even the oldest, like Lam Po Tang. The lagoons are over-fished, and most kinds of fishing have become illegal. The docks have been reduced from employing 5,000 manual workers, to employing less than half this, many of them now skilled workers, often holders of HSC. Government and para-statals have been reducing their work-force drastically under the new neo-liberal politics that make "Government" become a mere "facilitator" to big business.
But more importantly, because it is provoking the systemic crisis, over the past 30 years we will have seen 10,000 sugar mill artisans at 21 mills become 1,000 artisans in 4 clusters. 9,000 jobs have been destroyed this way in the countryside. The European Union money, according to the misguided MAAS (Multi-Annual Adaptation Strategy) has continued to give Blueprint money to mill workers being laid off, without any money to create new jobs for this kind of worker. As everyone knows, the sugar estates used, in the main, to take baptized people on as mill-workers. This is irrelevant, however, because losing jobs is bitter for everyone, and the whole village-community loses the employment at the mill, for now and forever. And in any case, over the same time period, and under similar conditions, the unskilled and less highly paid labourers who have been predominantly Indo-Mauritian from the time of indenture, are being reduced in number from 60,000 to less than 5,000. Another 55,000 jobs in the countryside destroyed. VRS 2 is a sugar bosses' debt being paid for with European Union money. That is the Ramgoolam MAAS main thrust. The sugar bosses' and Governments' aim is to have no permanent labourers. The few that remain will be hurled into seasonal work. Very small planters have abandoned their tiny fields, as centralization has made things more difficult for them.
All this to outline, if briefly, the real nature of the crisis. It is a crisis of livelihood.
It does not help to pretend otherwise.
And, Ramgoolam and Berenger are both living in a dream-world if they think this scale of economic problem, hitting the entire working class like a sledge-hammer, can be addressed by pretending there are "pockets of poverty" that a few NGO's and a Trust Fund can cope with. And their dream will very quickly turn into a very real nightmare for all of us, because communalizing such a major social and economic crisis, can lead to a very dangerous situation.
We need real, tangible things. We need them for everyone:
We need massive job-creation. And the jobs created need to be for people who are often uneducated. There is no way we can get away from this need.
We need food security. As food crops become scarce (as they are burnt for fuel, and affected by global climate change), and as fuel prices make transport costs prohibitive, we need to become more-or-less self-sufficient in food.
We need access to the land for those who want to plant agricultural produce. Interlines must be made available for people to plant. The cane bosses must be made to organize their lines of cane accordingly. For diversified agriculture on a massive scale to succeed, we need the Government at the same time to put in place agro-industry factories to process, transform, preserve agricultural produce, and organize exportation, just as Government helps hotels sell their "tourism product".
We need unemployment benefit for people changing jobs or without jobs.
We need the rupee to be protected against the kind of provoked depreciation we had in 2006, and which lined the pockets of the rich at the direct expense of the poor.
We need clean, genuinely renewable energy sources to be developed fast, using the sun, the sea and the wind. Minister Kasenally on the BBC World Service promised every household a solar panel, for self-sufficiency and for selling electricity to CEB, too. He should get on with it.
This is the kind of program we need to organize behind.
As you read this letter, you will probably be pleased to know that LALIT has already been building up support amongst working people, the poor and the unemployed, amongst women and young people, amongst fishermen and very small planters, for this kind of program. We have held some 150 neighbourhood meetings, and about 50 film-shows around a LALIT DVD film on the systemic crisis in the sugar and cane industries. We have distributed leaflets on the subject by the 10,000 times 10 or so. And we have a detailed book on the program. We have held forums and group discussions. We even held an international theoretical seminar on what a systemic crisis is, and what kind of program is necessary.
What we certainly do not need is a program which pretends that the poor are poor because of their community, ethnic group or religion, and that then pretends that a Best Loser for "Creoles and other Christians" will cure the problem. Because it will not.
On the contrary, it will introduce further communalization to a society already far too dangerously communalized. We need to do away with communalism altogether, and one place to start is in the Schedule to the Constitution of the country. That may help to unite the working people as they face the employers and the Government and as they stand unified behind the economic demands.
So, let us now turn to the issue of the importance of doing away with the Best Loser System.
AGAINST THE COMMUNAL BEST LOSER SYSTEM
For years now, LALIT has been gradually getting more and more support for revoking the Best Loser System (1). As it is, it is a limping, decrepit, useless appendage to the Constitution, an appendage that has suffered emergency surgery after almost every general election.
And yet, this hideous, small appendage manages to infect with communalism the entire political and democratic process. It gives the veneer of justification to all the communalo-religious and even casteist politics that are practiced. It gives a veneer of justification, by rebound, to the idea that the Prime Minister has to be of the majority supposed "community". Otherwise, why need to reassure minorities?
To make matters worse, the statistics being used for the "re-equilibrating" of those elected are based on the population in the country way back in 1972. The MMM-PSM government, you will recall, changed the Constitution to ensure use of the 1972 figures, so as to prevent further ethno-religious classification in the 10-yearly Census due in 1982. That was potentially a good measure, but only if it was MMM's step towards abolishing the BLS. But all it means now is that most people in the country alive today have never been classified racially by the State. Thank goodness!
When political leaders, Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger follow the priests, Gregoire and Fanchette, into a brand new form of further ethno-religious classification under the Constitution, i.e. to replace "General Population" by "Creoles and Other Christians", we need to ask ourselves what are they, in fact, doing?
First, they are entering an arena where the gladiator fight is in fact to decide "which section of a community, in communal terms, will lead that whole community". Father Cerveau, before being promoted "on to the mountain" was struggling within the Church and within the broader General Population for change in leadership, and this is the struggle Fathers Fanchette and Gregoire have taken up. Leadership used to be assured around Independence by Mgr. Margeot and Gaetan Duval who "led", and, within the internal balance of class forces of the community, this meant Franco-Mauritian leadership in alliance with an urban petit-bourgeoisie, with Gaetan Duval's populist, and often fascist politics, bringing in or claiming to bring in the broad masses. In 1970 Father Fanchette and Clarel Malherbe set up Organisation Fraternelle to take what they saw as the "Ti-Creole" base away from the PMSD and Mgr. Margeot, a class and communal split was their aim. This mainly benefitted the MMM. Now 30 years later Father Fanchette and Gregoire, in the presence of Clarel Malherbe, once again set up a movement (Federation des Creoles Mauriciens) to take what they see as the "Creole" base away from the MMM and Mgr. Piat, so that there is "Creole leadership" with the other sub-communal categories tagged on under "and other Christians".
Second, Ramgoolam and Berenger are wading into very deep Constitutional water. Either they are just pretending to support these ethno-religious leaders by "playing to the gallery", as it were, and they have no intention of doing anything at all, which is one possibility. Or, if they are serious, they are planning to support Constitutional changes to have the question of "community" once again put back into the Census questionnaire. This is evident, because, if the National Assembly were to go and substitute the words "Creoles and Other Christians" for the words "General Population", there would be a massive imbroglio for the simple reason that there is no Census figure for "Creoles and Other Christians". There is only a 1972 Census figure for "General Population", which is not necessarily the same thing.
Do we want to continue going down the road of classification by ethnic group and religion? Are we not sick of this legacy from colonization and slavery? Don't we agree with UNESCO expert on slavery, Prof. Doudou Dienne that the worst legacy from slavery is the continuation today of race classification? Whether it's classification in ordinary life, or by the State? Aren't we pleased that South Africa finally did away with race classification by the State in 1994, after a long struggle? Can't we see the bloodshed where there is institutionalized, legally sanctioned "communalism", whether in the Lebanon, in Ruanda, in Ireland, in Israel, in Yugoslavia?
When we talk of "communalist dynamics" we are unfortunately not just making hollow predictions. Nor do we want to spoil your end-of-the-year with all this rather shaming communal talk. But, suppose that the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader decide to go ahead and change "General Population" into "Creoles and Other Christians" in the Schedule to the Constitution. The minute they start, there will be further demands, won't there? Surely there are some Pentecostal and other protestant Church goers who would be loath to be led by two Catholic Fathers? Surely there are some Christians who do not consider that they should be part of an "or other Christians" lumped together, for the same reasons that General Population has become unacceptable. Atheists are immediately without a place, unless they happen to be Sino-Mauritian.
And once there are three religious groups, won't there be an almost "objective" need to be others, for Buddhists, Bahais, Animists, Sai Baba devotees, Atheists (other than for people calling themselves Sino-Mauritians or Creoles)? And so on. In fact, at the last Census there were dozens of different "religions" named by people.
Once there is the category of "Creole", surely some people would feel that they are better represented by the term "Afro-Kreol", so as to avoid being oppressed within the group by, say, Euro-Creoles? Might some Indo-Kreols feel that they are outnumbered by Afro-Kreols? And so on, ad infinitum.
Some Ahmadiya people might feel better represented by a separate group as they are not recognized by the majority Muslim community leaders.
Within the so-called Hindu community, there might be people who feel that their caste is being dominated by another or others, and that they would prefer to be recognized by the Schedule as a caste.
There are some Tamils, since the time of an infamous Gaetan Duval campaign in the 1960's which I shall not name, who would like to have a separate community. Tamil Council candidates in the 2000 case before Judge Seetulsingh said they considered themselves primarily of the Tamil "race". There was at one point a group that wanted to unite Tamils, Telegus and Marathis, for the same kind of reason. Would some amongst these three not, in turn, be expected to seek individual representation, the minute some people were unhappy about nominations and promotion within job hierarchies or the allocation of lucrative contracts?
For this is what you will notice is behind all the communal moves on all sides. It is not so much about dignity. Nor is it about equality. It is about promotion and tenders. It comes into play when people give up on the most noble of all struggles, the struggle for equality, and settle for ethnically equitable inequality. Father Gregoire, aptly giving this away in the rather surprising examples he gives, "a aussi rappele que de nombreux creoles ont reussi. Il a ainsi cite les noms de Jean Suzanne et de Lise Coindreau (sic) comme exemples." (L'Express, 29 October, 2007)
Meanwhile, in Mauritius, as everyone knows, most families are fairly mixed, in terms of colour, religion, caste and sub-religion, and many families even have someone from abroad in their family. So, we are, whenever we classify people, doing a violence to family groups and groups of friends. No family is supposedly "pure". In any case, the very concept of "purity" is what gives away the potentially fascist nature of race/religious classification.
Now, perhaps at this stage of reading this letter, and of thinking about the Best Loser System, it is worth drawing your attention to the short-comings of the much-publicized and seldom-explained Balancy Judgement on the Best Loser System. The demarche of Rezistans ek Alternativ before Balancy was explained rather well by Rex Stephen, their lawyer, apparently driven to writing a letter to the editor (Le Mauricien, 23 June 05) in order to get the truth out into the press. He explained the limited nature of the Rezistans case, then saying, "Il est donc clair, a notre sens, que ce jugement ne peut etre interprete comme mettant en cause la question de classification, pour les seuls besoins electoraux, de notre peuple. Il ne met pas en cause parreillement le systeme de Best Losers lui-meme .." The case, during the Prime Ministership of Berenger who was very much in favour of stabilizing the system, did not put into question the Best Loser System itself, but only the question of officers refusing someone's candidature on the grounds of the candidate not classifying himself, in other words, this issue was taken separately from the communal system as a whole, which continues unaltered. The Balancy Judgement in no way upset the generalized communalization of the electoral process provoked by the very existence of the BLS. Everyone saw that this was the case, as they watched the general election process unfold and the BL seats allocated, but no-one said so. We saw all the elected members in 2005 being allocated their "community" in the calculations done by the ESC and saw how each was accorded a number of electors according to the proportions established in the 1972 Census. The whole disgusting operation went on as if nothing had happened. Because nothing had happened.
The Judgment, of course, did no more than what the complainants asked, i.e. made a little space for conscientious objectors to opt out. Classification of the people continues. Classification of the elected members continues. Some candidates could thus, after Balancy's Judgment, avoid classifying themselves by putting themselves in a virtual fifth category.
DO AWAY WITH THE WHOLE THING!
But this is not the point. The point of the struggle against the BLS is to oppose the entire hideous system that accords everyone in the whole population a "community". We do not want any candidate who stands for election to come afterwards, by a Constitutional machination, to supposedly represent only people from his own community, and to supposedly not represent people not in his community. Balancy did not change any of this.
In any case, his judgment has been reversed.
But, are the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition now thinking of using the idea of the Balancy judgment in order to maintain the Best Loser System even after electoral reforms? Alongside the Gregoire demand for a newly conceptualized community? Clearly Paul Berenger may be. He, and later Yousouf Mohammed, immediately realized that Balancy's judgment, despite the laudable aim of the complainants, could potentially stabilize and re-sanctify the whole Best Loser System.
Whatever Ramgoolam and Berenger intend to do, we are writing this letter specially to call on you, as a thinking person, to stand firm, to oppose them if they do intend to refine the BLS instead of dismantling the entire communal thing. It could so easily be replaced by a similar but not communal, system. This would permit society the space necessary to grow out of communalism consciously.
We call on Prime Minister Ramgoolam and Opposition Leader Berenger to prepare an electoral reform that introduces a dose of proportional representation and that, at the same time, follows on with what Father Gregoire had agreed to i.e. the doing away of all classification into racial and religious groups in the Constitution. He said "Je poursuis mon idee: soit on replace le terme "population generale" par "Creole", soit on do away with everything. Il faudra alors definir le peuple mauricien. Il faudra alors revoir toute la question electorale, notamment le decoupage electoral et se debarrasser du systeme de Best Losers. Il faudra alors toute une transformation de la mentalite mauricienne." Le Mauricien then asked him: "Cette proposition cadre avec celle proposee depuis des annees par un mouvement comme LALIT qui a egalement apporte une grande contribution a la culture creole. Qu'en pensez-vous?" to which he replied, "Je n'ai aucun probleme avec la demarche de LALIT. S'il oeuvre pour la constitution du Mauricianisme. (Le Mauricien 18 Oct 07).
We, in LALIT, are through this letter, making a clear call for the communal Best Loser System to be abolished, and this in the course of an over-all Electoral Reform introducing some proportional representation.
And we call on you to support this call.
But, at the same time, the real issues behind working peoples' voicelessness need to be addressed in other ways, not just through the economic program outlined above, nor just through removing the BLS:
*Equal education rights, by teaching maths, science and other content subjects through the mother tongues (spoken and written) in school.
*Taxation that is based on income, and that is progressive, so as to tend towards equalizing incomes.
*Removal of the literacy qualification to stand for the National Assembly.
*Lifting of the ban on Kreol and Bhojpuri in the National Assembly.
*Tightening up of existing laws on expenditure of candidates to include proportional expenditure by the party concerned for each candidate; this can prevent the bourgeoisie from controlling the main parties, as it does now.
*Introduction of an anti-discrimination law that addresses discrimination against people on ethnic or any other irrelevant grounds in job-selection. This law must include a clause that employers, starting with government and parastatals and including all other employers, must publish through the Government Gazette, a list of all applicants for a post and their main qualifications and also a list of those candidates who actually got appointed to the job and their main qualifications. (We propose this progressive demand, because on the Gregoire-Fanchette platform there is the demand for a quota by ethnic group for Government jobs, which implies race classification by the State in the Census, which is an extremely reactionary demand, in a country that has only recently escaped slavery and indenture, which promoted race classification to justify inequality.)
The Program we have outlined in this letter needs your support.
Please voice it!
Please beware of both blatant and sneaky attempts to further refine the iniquitous Best Loser System. Please oppose all forms of communalism and communal classification. Please speak out for jobs for all, access to land for all, non-discrimination for all. This kind of principled stand is what will fight inequality, and it is, after all, crying inequalities that we are all trying to address.
It is through this kind of Program, which begins from today's real life issues like the collapse of the sugar industry, and that at the same time works towards an understanding of the central role in the past of this particular industry in our political and social history, and that also proposes unifying "demands" behind which we organize, so that we can move forward.
Please contact us if you'd like to read more literature on our Program/s. Or visit our web site www.lalitmauritius.org. You can find articles on our Program and on the BLS by double-clicking on the word NEWS just underneath the photo of the demonstration. Our website gets over a 100,000 visits a year.
Or, if you'd prefer it, just let us know if you'd like a conversation? Or a small meeting?
MORE DEMOCRACY, IN ALL SPHERES
And as we move forward behind such a Program, we come to realize that democracy must expand, and that decisions about the land, about our livelihoods and jobs, about what to produce, about the environment, the sea, the air, our schools and hospitals, all thess issues must be decided by all of us. Decisions cannot continue to be left in the hands of the employers, who are masters by virtue of inheritance or exploitation or both, or in the hands of elected MPs who get nominated Ministers in a process skewed by both capitalist lobbies and communalism.
The importance of developing a Program that we unite around is that, this way, we can imagine a happier and more prosperous future for all of us, here in Mauritius and on the planet.
And on this note, we wish you a very happy new year.
Lindsey Collen, for LALIT (208 2132, 452 0148)
(1)People who have taken a stand for the end of the Best Loser System altogether include:
* Albie Sachs and the Sachs Commission (despite the fact that Paul Berenger expressly excluded a change in the BLS from the terms of reference of his Committee). He said, "The great majority of deponents criticized the BLS vehemently." Sachs also said, "It will be noted that international human rights law does not give minority groups the right to receive special treatment in terms of the laws concerning the enjoyment of citizenship."
* Supreme Court, Judge Seetulsing (Supreme Court, 2000)
* Electoral Supervisory Commission has had to go to the Supreme Court so many times that it is exasperated (1982, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2006).
* Former President of the Electoral Supervisory Commission, Andre Robert.
* Sir Marc David, ex President of the Electoral Commission.
* Justice Harold Glover, Electoral Commissioner.
* Former President of the Republic, Cassam Uteem.
* Political parties (Lalit, Nouvo Lizour, Rezistans ek Alternativ, Muvman Premye Me), while individual politicians have also spoken out against at times, even Navin Ramgoolam (in 2005 at a Media Watch event), and Paul Berenger (2007, before a few days later changing his mind), Rama Sithanen, Marie France Roussety of the Labour Party, to name a few.
* University lecturers, including Raj Matthur, Roukaya Kasenally and Sheila Bunwaree.
The women's movement, in particular, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, which deplores the ethno-religious lobbies that the BLS encourages. Other women took a stand including Pramila Patten, Roukaya Kasenally, Paula Atchia, Dulari Jugnarain, Loga Virahsamy, Nita Deerpalsing, when Paul Berenger came up with a draft bill offering "best losers" for women as well.
* Lawyers, most famously, Jean Claude Bibi, who co-wrote the classic document with Ragini Kistnasamy, on the subject. Michel Ahnee wrote a classic article against the BLS system called "Republique Oecumenique des Tribus". Danielle Lagesse and Rex Stephen have also taken stands against.
* Editorialists including Gilbert Ahnee, who has devoted dozens of editorials to this, Arianne Cavalot de L'Estrac, Shenaz Patel (though on 9 December, she has changed her mind and is suggesting further refinements of the BLS), Henri Marimootoo, Serge Ng Tat Chung when he was editor of La Vie Catholique, and even Business Mag.
* A whole list of social workers and social commentators were, one by one, interviewed with the same questions in a series in Le Mauricien in 2005 and took a stand against the BLS. It was unfortunate that it was not made clear to them by the interviewing journalists that the Balancy judgement was not against the BLS but an unintended possible stabilization of it.
* United Nations Economic and Social Council has expressed concern, saying it "should be scrapped".
13 December 2007
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Republic of Mauritius.
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