We were strolling through Grand Bay today, the weather was really hot, we had lunch at Sunset Boulevard, which is a nice place with ocean view. There were only tourists in the restaurant, and the only other Mauritians were the staff. This is something which we, young professionals comfortable with mingling with our lighter skinned friends, don’t find unusual anymore, but in Grand Bay, the lack of other brown skinned customers was much more apparent than in other places like say, Caudan or Ebene. It is a weird feeling that of feeling like an outsider in your own country. But we were starving and we did not care much for this. After lunch, we continued our stroll up to the new shopping complex around Super U. I was surprised at how elaborately big the development was, and how many shops the complex contained: so many clothes and accessories shops, cafes, etc… It was a nice feeling to have so much choice. Following recommendation from a friend, we had ice cream at a Gelato place just outside Super U. A tourist lady asked to taste one of the flavours for her son. There were so many flavours that this was inevitable, so we asked to taste one as well. The lady asked us if we were intending to buy, (or if we were just planning on tasting for free silent comment). I was kind of put off by the attitude. Funny thing about Mauritians. They slave away at a place for the comfort and pleasure of tourists, then they feel empowered by speaking french or english all day, and then they feel like displaying that false sense of superiority to other Mauritians. I call it plain Invert Racism. Then I thought, oh well maybe she had some bad experience before and did not just intend on being rude. Then I looked around me at Grand Bay, tourists and expatriates everywhere, Mauritians as staff, other multitudes of shopping malls mushrooming on the island. Will the average Mauritian be able to afford these shops? Everybody knows the answer to that question.
I for one, am seriously worried about the growing level of income disparity in Mauritius. With the opening up of the economy, especially the growing Finance and Property sector, we are welcoming more and more expatriates. I myself work with expatriates: South Africans, Irish, British, French, I think they are lovely people, but they do not live the Mauritian reality, they live the Mauritian “dream”. Me and my circle of friends have no issue having a blast in Mauritius and affording having glimpses of that Mauritius dream life, but what about the rest. The people working blue collar jobs that pay less and are having to raise a family with that salary? The people who go to Bagatelle only to window shop or who cannot afford to pay the Rs 350 to watch a 3D movie for the whole family?
I sincerely think that a growing Gini Coefficient is a problem not to be ignored. Being surrounded by things you will never be able to afford will grow bitterness in people, and that is definitely not healthy. What is the solution? Higher taxes for higher earners? Education and education, to help climb social ladders? More affordable leisure activities (yes we only do have beaches and free access to only one decent park)? Free community sporting facilities for the youth? Tighter expatriate immigration facilities?
It is not enough to open ourselves to the world, it is also important to help our children to process that information, with solid set of values and they have to be proud of their own culture. After 44 years of independence, there is still a long way to go, that is for sure…