Port Louis – Mauritius has been gripped by a World Cup-type atmosphere as the Indian Ocean island nation celebrates its milestone 50th year of independence.
Week-long festivities across the nation reached a crescendo on Monday at the main Independence Day event at Champs de Mars Racecourse, with a stunning aviation display, carnival style concert, parade, and a spectacular audiovisual and fireworks show that lit up the night sky.
It was probably the largest pyrotechnics display in Mauritius’ history as thousands of locals, dignitaries from across the world and tourists descended on the event, held at the same venue that marked Mauritius’ independence from Britain on 12 March 1968.
It’s a feeling of palpable patriotism across Mauritius, with flags and the nation’s colours everywhere, from houses and skyscrapers to temples, churches, mosques, cars and even yacht sails.
Seasonal rains put a dampener on celebrations at the Mahebourg Waterfront on Sunday, worrying government officials and organises ahead of the main event in the capital, Port Louis, yesterday. But, the weather Gods were good to the island nation, with no tropical evening downpour that’s common this part of the year.
Besides the usual pomp and ceremony with a flag hoisting and military parade, the aviation display and audiovisual and fireworks spectacular gave the main celebrations all the hallmarks synonymous with a World Cup or Olympics opening ceremony. In true African style, there were even vuvuzelas being sold and trumpeted by revellers at the main event.
Helicopters and planes did amazing aerial displays over the venue, which is the oldest racecourse in the world. The audiovisual show highlighted the history of Mauritius over the last 400 hundred years, from the indigenous people, to being colonised by the French and then by the British, as well as the end of slavery and the introduction of Indian immigrants to the island.
Today, while the island has a diverse population, people of Indian descent make up the majority and the nation has thus built very close relations with India. Besides French, English and Creole, Hindi and other Indian languages are commonly spoken on the island. Hinduism is the most widely practised religion, followed by Christianity and Islam.
India’s stamp on the island cannot be missed, as the sub-continent is also playing a major part in the events around the 50th anniversary of Independence of Mauritius. While old colonial buildings in Mauritius still have statues and portraits of the likes of Queen Victoria, Indian flags could be seen side-by-side with Mauritian flags on highways and government buildings across the island this week.
In fact, India sent its President Ramnath Kovind and a large Indian delegation to Mauritius for the island’s independence celebrations. Kovind met Mauritian Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth, in the capital yesterday ahead of the main event. The governments of Mauritius and India signed several bilateral agreements around investment, education and culture.
India’s air force and military also joined Mauritian forces in the parades and air shows yesterday and in other events on the island.
Meanwhile, representing South Africa at the independence celebrations were Economic Development Minister, Ebrahim Patel and South African High Commissioner to Mauritius, Her Royal Highness Princess Zenani Nosizwe Dlamini. Dlamini is the eldest daughter of Nelson Mandela and WinnieMadikizela Mandela. She was appointed SA High Commissioner to Mauritius last year, following a posting to Argentina.
South Africa also enjoys strong business and tourism links with Mauritius, with South Africa being one of the island’s biggest tourism source markets. Mauritius shares many similarities with KwaZulu-Natal in particular, both in terms of sub-tropical coastal climate and its large Indian diaspora, linked to both Mauritius’ and South Africa’s colonial heritage with France and the development of sugarcane farming in both African nations.