Mauritian History from 1900 to 2000

Written on 10/05/2021
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The Age of the Sugar Industry - 1920s

Population in the little colony kept on increasing and in 1901 we were already around 371,000 present on the island. As mentioned in the previous article (Mauritius History 1800 - 1900) under British rule, lots of changes were brought for a smoother running of the island. Some examples of those changes were, modernization of agricultural techniques by partly replacing human labor with machines, the road network was improved, as a result, sugarcane production was almost tripled between 1817 and 1827. In 1858, there were around 259 sugarcane mills in Mauritius. Two railway lines, completed in 1864 and 1865 added to the taking off of the sugar industry. 

As you must have read earlier, the year 1834 marked the beginning of the arrival of indentured laborers on the island. Yet, years later plantation owners continued to import Indian labourers to replace their freed slaves as opportunities linked to the sugar industry kept on increasing. In the early 1920s, Mauritius island experienced a sugar boom which greatly benefited the economy of Mauritius. The influx of Indian indentured labor, on the other hand, halted in 1909, with one last shipment of 1,500 arriving in 1923. The early 1920s sugar boom was claimed to have brought the island a brief period of prosperity, with the planters benefiting the most.


Creation of the Labour Party (Parti Travailliste) - 1936

Founded in 1936, the Labour Party remains one of the oldest major political parties of Mauritius. The party’s founders were Maurice Curé, Jean Prosper, Emmanuel Anquetil, Samuel Barbe, Barthelemy Ohsan, Godefroy Moutia, Pandit Sahadeo, Mamode Assenjee and Hassenjee Jeetoo. The main goals behind forming this political party were to improve the life situation of the working class, protect workers’ rights, achieve working-class suffrage in the Legislative Council, establish a Department of Labour, outlaw capitalist exploitation of sugar estates, and instil socialist values throughout Mauritian government agencies. The Labour Party held close to thirty public meetings in 1936 and seventy in 1937 to alert public opinion and mobilise workers of the exploitation they were subjected to.


Yet, it was the year 1958 which marked one of the most important steps of the party as this year Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam joined the party. The latter was pro of an Independent Mauritius within the Commonwealth and was more than determined to achieve this goal.

The 3 destructive cyclones of 1945

In 1945, Mauritius was struck by three consecutive devastating cyclones, considered as the most deadly cyclones the island had ever faced since 1892, causing lots of death, houses, and plantations were also ravaged. Yet, the British were not present to manage this crisis as they were busy dealing with another crisis, the 2nd World War. This episode somehow made the population realize that the British were never present whenever they needed help as even after the 3 cyclones passed, they did not come back immediately to the island. A small decline in the sugar industry was noticed in 1947, from 296 in 1860 to 30 towards the end of 1947. Records also showed that, despite the sugar boom in the early 1920s, Mauritius was not bringing much to the British in terms of revenue, and the island was not considered as a viable one due to lack of many resources.


The road to independence - 1968

The 1945 incident was another point contributing to the growing revolt of, not only some of the individuals but also of the Labour party as well. Indeed, movements in the favour of the working class already started years ago with the creation of the Labour Party, and the harsh work to achieve independence did not stop there.

The first General elections were held in August 1948, the first election being under a new constitution, which established a Legislative Council under the revised constitution of 1947, with 19 elected members. These elections marked the first steps towards the self-government of Mauritius. The first sitting of the Legislative Council took place in September 1948. In the 1960s, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam led the negotiations for total political independence from the British Crown.

With independence movements that had already been achieved in other colonies, a similar movement was expected in Mauritius by the British Colonial Office. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the island was not bringing much to the colonists and in parallel, an independence campaign gained momentum after 1961, when the British agreed to self-government and eventual independence of Mauritius island. In 1965 the Colonial Office declared that the island was ready for independence and on 12 May 1968, after nearly four centuries of European rule, Mauritius finally became an independent island. Yet, the British monarch, Elizabeth II, remained the nominal head of state as Queen of Mauritius.


The British decided to grant independence to the island but under some conditions. The condition to keep the Chagos Archipelago was imposed by the British, a decision to which the political party did not really have the choice other than to accept. The Chagos Archipelago was of principal interest to the British since Diego Garcia had one of the most important bays of the region, naturally protected by its shape. It was the ideal island for a military base.


A Republic in 1992

As stated earlier, although Independence was achieved in 1968, the British monarchy, where Elizabeth II, remained the nominal head of state as Queen of Mauritius was still in effect. However, in 1992, 24 years after Independence, Mauritius achieved the status of Republic. By acquiring the title of ‘Republic’, a system of governance in which citizens have an ultimate authority which they exercise by voting for and electing representatives.