INTERVIEW, News on Sunday 3 June 2011 .pdf

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News on Sunday, June 3 - 9, 2011




“We need a new generation
of young leaders”
Young people today are often criticised for their lethargy, indifference
and lack of political commitment
compared to their predecessors of the
1970s who were extremely concerned
about the kind of society in which
they lived and tried to change.
This is an easy criticism of our youngsters. We should look at the issue from a
different point of view and ask ourselves
the question: what is the dominant ideology in Mauritius today? From the early
1980s till now, this ideology has been neoliberalism, also called raw capitalism or
market forces. At school, this is what
young people are taught as the only possible path to growth and they are made
to believe that the rule of life should be
to make as much money as possible in
the shortest possible time. This is the line
of thinking of so-called opinion leaders
and the language used by most politicians which young people read in newspapers. The propaganda machine of both
the private sector and government agencies churns out this ideology and young
people eventually believe that it is gospel truth.
What is wrong with this ideology
of neo-liberalism?
The basic values of neo-liberalism are
selfishness and greed. Anything which
is based on sharing and solidarity is
totally ignored. Except for a few young
people, the majority are unable to discuss
fundamental issues and chart out the
right course. But they are not to blame.
As adults (opinion leaders, teachers,
parents, politicians, etc), we are the ones
to blame. We need to look at the predicament of young people in a sympathetic way. They are exposed to an avalanche of clichés and propaganda, which
makes it difficult for them to distinguish
between truth and what is in effect a pack
of lies.
What do you mean by ‘except for a
few young people’?
Well, there are a few young people
who, when properly guided, can see
through the propaganda mess. But they
are a very small minority who, anyway,
have to ensure that they get adequate
qualifications for them to have a reasonable job.
Let us look at the events which led to
the student revolts of May 1975. Since
Independence, because of promises
made, there were new aspirations
among young people and at the same
time there were leaders with fresh and
new ideas who toured the country, meeting people and explaining their ideas.
Moreover, many were active in secondary schools and were in touch with
secondary school students. The combination of these factors allowed for a high
level of sensitisation work to be done on
important issues – national identity, a
progressive education system, foreign
relations, Vietnam, Palestine, apartheid
in South Africa and so on. Because of that

Dev Virahsawmy is a playwright and a poet, a linguist
and a champion of the Mauritian language (Kreol).
He is also a teacher and a social and political analyst.
In this interview, he talks mainly about young people
in Mauritius today.

reality, young people were politically
aware and they took to the streets and
were at the forefront of the May 1975
revolts. Today, most teachers believe that
neo-liberalism is the right path, globalisation is a necessity and deregulation and
privatisation are important. The few
people who think that there are alternatives to this dominant ideology do not
have access to the media and to institutions where they can express their views.
But world events in the 1970s were
also very different. National liberation struggles, decolonisation in
Africa, the events of May 1968 in
Paris, the Prague Spring, the
Vietnam War to name but a few had
an impact on young people’s thinking
and behaviour.
You are right. It was a different era.
The general ambience was different then.
But there are also major events today.
Global warming and climate change will
affect us all. Mauritius will find itself in a
dramatic situation in the coming years.
Pillars on which Mauritius has been built
will collapse, for example tourism as we
know it today. These developments coupled with the downfall of global capitalism will force us to rethink our economic strategy. Food security must top the
national agenda. We shall have to eat the
food that we produce locally, and for that
we will need to have land reform. Land
is still controlled by a handful of Francos
who build IRS villas on it to sell to foreigners. We need land to grow food as a
survival strategy and new water conservation strategies. We need to change our
lifestyles and the current practice of living
in one area and working in another. We
have to have a locally centred economy,
both in Mauritius and in Rodrigues. In

Mauritius, we need to have 20 or more
municipalities, each with its own area
(residential, own hospital and schools,
etc). We need a more efficient public
transport network and we shall have to
explore the possibility of using our water
ways. All of these demand a new creative energy and young people will have
to start thinking out of the box. We need
to talk to them and ask them to correct
the mistakes that we made. It is a question of survival.
Earlier you said that “when properly guided...” But won’t young
people find this patronising? Will they
Initially, some will listen. Others may
find it patronising. Adults have to say to
them: “The world is yours. Help us to
turn it into a comfortable and decent
living place.” Our system of representative democracy is grinding to a halt. We
need a new form of democracy. Politics
will have to be done in a different way.
One enlightened person won’t be
enough. Young people will have to study,
read, learn and think. We need to sow the
seeds of fundamental reforms and muchneeded changes in our country.
Impatience is not the solution. The
momentous events in Tunisia and Egypt
were the result of years of work. In
Mauritius, we need to have a new generation of leaders who will only emerge
after a proper understanding of reality.
But there is no heightened political
Mauritians today?
Anew consciousness is only possible
when there are scholars, thinkers and
people who study issues in an objective
manner and avoid propaganda. They
will get young people to think. Leaders

are necessary. Gurus are important.
There are no shortcuts and no recipes.
Even in Tunisia and Egypt, infrastructural changes have not taken place after the
popular uprisings which shook these
It used to be said that the revolution (or fundamental and wide-ranging reforms) will happen when the
conditions are ripe, ie when objective
and subjective conditions mature and
We are not there yet. As far as objective conditions are concerned, at present
we only have some ripples at the surface.
Only when industry starts to collapse,
when massive redundancies become a
reality, when the Government is unable
to use the Welfare System and young
people are hit really hard will they start
to react and organise themselves.
Culturally, they will begin to understand
that Bollywood and Hollywood are false
values and that in art, literature, cinema,
etc we are only consumers of artefacts.
And they will understand that we cannot carry on with a system based on
social injustice, where 75% of our wealth
is owned and controlled by 5-6 families
only. They must understand also that we
cannot have a national identity without
a national language and we ought to
work towards a supra-national identity
which encompasses our national identity and ethnic identities based on religion, language and cultural background.
They will have to go against the grain.
A tall order indeed for young
Mauritians given that Sheila
Bunwaree once said that most young
students who arrive at the University
of Mauritius after completing their
HSC do not have “un esprit critique”…
…Is this really surprising? Over 90%
of Mauritians do not have basic literacy
meaning that they lack the ability to write
in any language. Only 30% have functional literacy. CPE exams are still based
on multiple choice questions, or how not
to discover that someone is literate! The
UNESCO test for literacy is to write 150
words about who you are. I teach my students how to write a text properly, a text
which is coherent. Our youngsters will
have to work very hard to change society
for the better and safeguard their future
and that of their children.

A founding member of the
MMM in the late 60s, Dev
Virahsawmy became an MP (after
his election under the banner of
the MMM in September 1970), was
imprisoned along with other MMM
leaders in 1972, went on hunger
strike and later helped set up the
MMMSP, a splinter group which
put a lot of emphasis on the education of the masses rather than
on taking over power).

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