The entire world now knows that democracy is fledging in Mauritius. The “papa-piti’ deal that some see as ‘constitutional’ and ‘legitimate’ has been decried and ridiculed by many but those benefiting from the system find absolutely nothing wrong with the ‘monarchy à la mauricienne’. This ‘papa piti deal’ could perhaps have been ‘forgiven’, if those holding power could make the effort to understand and appreciate that legitimacy of a government does not arise only out of an electoral process but rather in how it deals with the ‘quotidien’ of the citizens. Procedural democracy does not guarantee legitimacy but a substantive one can go a long way in doing so.

Sheila Bunwaree

Sadly, our ‘quotidien’ has been reduced to seeing our youth slowly being decimated by synthetic drugs, our babies dying in public hospitals, our cancer patients suffering in silence, our poor and vulnerable children trapped in illiteracy, some falling prey to child marriage and/or teenage pregnancy. Our  environment and biodiversity is being destroyed, our debt level grows by the day, our women are treated as second class citizens, our elderly are maltreated in homes which remain inadequately regulated, our water stolen away from us (Re- A critical reading of the Rivers and Canals Act 1863). Our security is under threat with ‘law and order’ breaking down, our land and ‘pas géométriques’ is being snatched away from us by big capital leading to land speculation. Our institutions are rapidly decaying and scandals grow at an exponential rate. Our ‘quotidien’ is also marked by men, women, young and less young desperately looking for a job, while some of their fellow citizens – the cronies and supporters of the regime – are being absorbed as employees in different sectors of the economy. Meritocracy has been replaced by ‘Connectocracy’. When the mentor minister tells Mauritians living abroad that if they come back home, there will be no jobs for them; the message is even clearer : jobs, livelihoods and the ‘right to work’ are the preserve of the few. Many of our children do not have the required ‘connection’ and/or traits required by the monarchs of ‘paradise island’.

Hunger Strikes – A Tool of Last Resort 

A senior minister has apparently argued that there is no need for hunger strikes and that solutions can be found. No one in a society which calls itself modern, inclusive and caring should need to have recourse to a hunger strike. In so doing, they put their lives at risk. But when claims and protests for justice falls on deaf ears of the governing elite, the people have no choice than having recourse to the ultimate tool. The current political class has other priorities such as entertaining Saudi princes and/or developing their own personal business interests and looking for ways and means to enrich themselves. Little time, if at all, is left to attend to the poor, the vulnerable and the downtrodden.

Understanding the essence of natural and social justice is not part of the ‘value system’ of many of our leaders – some do not hesitate to make statements such as ‘les zot krev de faim’, others will wait until they find the protests of the hunger strikers becoming uncontrollable and bordering human tragedy to take action. A good number of these workers are ‘des pères de famille’ and the only breadwinners in the family. We all know how easy it is to fall in the ‘vicious cycle of poverty’ – no job means no income, no food, no education, no medication, no leisure etc. No job means no possibility of an upward rise in social mobility. In short, no job is a life without dignity. Is this what modern and inclusive Mauritius all about?

All that the CWA workers were asking for is to be reintegrated in their jobs. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone: “The right to work, to free employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment’. Under Article 1(2) of the ILO Convention no 122, it is noted that each member shall ensure that ‘there is work for all who are available and seeking work’. Article 6 of the ICESR states that the right to work includes ‘the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his/her (my emphasis) living by work’. The EU Charter of fundamental rights notes that “everyone has the right to engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation’ but the  development model privileged and embraced by the Mauritian government is one where opportunities for people to access jobs are dwindling rapidly and in cases where people have a job, they are stripped of that opportunity in the most inhumane manner. It is always heart wrenching to see our fellow citizens out there in these wintry nights, with no food in their stomachs. It is perhaps legitimate to ask “Where are all those people who claim to be human rights defenders and advocates?’ Perhaps they have not yet learnt that the ‘Right to Work’ and to decent work for that matter, is a fundamental human right.