A tribute to Marie Gislaine Leste

Marie Gislaine Leste

A tribute by Corinna Lotz

A World to Win mourns the loss of our comrade Marie Gislaine Leste. She was a valiant fighter for a revolutionary change in society during all the years that we knew her.

We first met Marie in 1993 as we campaigned for the Right to Work and our magazine, Socialist Future, on a council housing estate in the Holloway area of London. She was in the company of a group of Kikuyu asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Kenya. Marie had a natural instinct for the essential politics of our work. She joined, and went on to help to organise events and discussions in north London to encourage the theory and practice of building a revolutionary movement.

She was born in 1940 in the Mauritian capital Port Louis to Creole parents, Maude Pepin and Claude Leste. Maude was a French-European teenager and Claude a successful Portuguese-Indian tailor. Claude encouraged a healthy contempt for the state and the parliamentary establishment in his daughter. In 1964 Marie gave birth to a son Patrick, and a daughter, Virginie, in 1966. Soon afterwards, she left for England where she worked for the National Westminster Bank. She loved to travel and lived for some time in France where she purchased a house.

Marie understood only too well the incestuous nature of the major ruling parties, the Parti Travailliste, the Mouvement Militant Mauricien and the Movement Socialist Mauricien, and their links with corporate interests. In particular, she battled single-handedly against the corrupt nature of the legal system, taking on the courts on several occasions. On her return to Mauritius in the mid-1990s, she settled in the district of Albion, building a small home on her own plot of land. From there, she fought to raise political awareness in a principled, creative way to suit the particular needs of the island and its inhabitants. She made friends with her neighbours in Albion, the Chowrimootoo family, evicted, like so many fellow Mauritians, from their house in the town of Quatre Bornes, after falling behind with the rent. She established a new movement, that opposed the impacts of globalisation and stood in the island’s election.

In 1996, together with Georgette and Vania Kistnensamy, she set up the Action du Groupe Ecologique in the once idyllic village of Flic en Flac. The Club demanded improvements to non-existent or poor infrastructure, and an end to property speculation which was destroying the island’s unique beaches, flora and fauna through uncontrolled tourism and development. It opposed the felling of trees in the Jardin de la Compagnie, the only green oasis in the centre of Port Louis.

Marie, Georgette and Vania Kistnensamy
Georgette and Vania Kistnensamy with Marie

In the 21st century, Marie sought to create political organisations based on an understanding of how globalisation provided new possibilities for a revolutionary programme. She managed to place A World to Win into all the libraries on the island. Campaigning against the impoverishment of Mauritians as the workforce was decimated by global shifts of capital, she opposed the Sale by Levy of land used as security by those unable to make loan repayments.

In 2004, she set up a Credit Union to protect poor people from the greed of banks and loan sharks. When failing health began to take its toll, she returned to London, where she had the courage to undergo taxing therapies to halt cancer. Despite her illness, she promoted Running a Temperature and A House of Cards, warning those she knew about the looming credit crunch and global financial crisis.

Marie loved her native country, its natural beauties and was involved with the life and struggles of its workers. She hated its corrupt ruling elite and the desecration of its unique volcanic scenery. She was ahead of most people in politics, recognising that globalisation had transformed every part of the world, including Mauritius, its government and its neighbours.

She had a keen eye for beauty, owning some paintings by artists she knew personally. She loved watching the sun go down over the Indian ocean from her house, her plants and the wild but friendly creatures that took up residence around her – the birds, geckos, tiny green mice, frogs – and a mule that often wandered by.

She was an exceptional woman, ecological campaigner, loyal friend and political fighter. She leaves behind her two children, seven grandchildren, close friends and comrades – and a memory, which will continue to inspire those who knew her.

Marie Gislaine Leste, born Port Louis 5 February 1940, died London 21 April 2008.