Independent Mauritius: A brief historical perspective

Many people, including my own countrymen, may not be aware. 22 August is an important date in the history of Mauritius. Most of us have in mind only12 March, our Republic Day.

It was on this day in 1967, following the victory of his party that late Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (then Prime Minister) came up with a motion in the then Legislative Assembly. It was to seek independence from British rule. The motion was carried.

But our little island became officially independent only on 12 March 1968. If I’m not mistaken this event could not be programmed earlier due to social unrest during the last quarter of 1967.

The initial isolated conflicts between small ethnic groups of creole and muslim in the suburbs of Port Louis were quickly getting scattered. So much that British troops had to intervene to bring them to a halt. With the arrival of the Knight Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI), a state of emergency was rigorously enforced and it wasn’t long before the situation became under control again.

Well, I’m sure there should be other reasons known to the Premier himself and his government at that time. Because choice of dates is certainly not a matter of tossing coins, especially when it comes to national events.

It might be worth recalling too that Sir Seewoosagur at the head of the MLP (Mauritius Labour Party) led an alliance with the CAM (Comité d’Action Musulman) under the leadership of late Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed. His main opponent was late Sir Gaetan Duval, leader of the PMSD (Parti Mauricien Social Démocrate), who was against the idea of independence and was seeking rather to maintain association with Great Britain.

Not so long after the proclamation of independence, in a gesture of reconciliation and unity, both groups joined hands together to form a coalition government; and Sir Gaetan Duval became the number two in the new government. With a “one-party” government there was a vacuum which led to the birth of the “Club des Etudiants Militants”, at first a pressure group with a leftist tendency, which later became the MMM (Mouvement Militant Mauricien). A new political party was thus born in 1970 under the leadership of Mr. Paul Bérenger who advocated a socialist approach that revolutionized politics in Mauritius with the emergence of a new breed of politicians.

Well, there are so many events in the history of this small island in the vast Indian Ocean that 22 August inevitably goes unsung.

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