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Letter to the Editor - The Pirates Arms issue: A puzzle which should be solved
It is with great interest that I have read the long feature article on the Pirates Arms Building which you published yesterday morning.
My understanding is that the article is published to get the historical record straight in the context of the debate whether the current Pirates Arms Building should be demolished in order to make room for a more modern and perhaps more impressive building in this strategic part of Victoria.
When I was growing up in the 50s, there were only two hotels in Victoria. In fact, this is what Alec Waugh wrote in 1952 in one of the first books ever written about the Seychellles 'Where the Clocks Chime Twice' (first published in 1952 by Cassell & Co. Ltd, London):
"The evenings that I spent in the town of Victoria I stayed at the Continental.
Victoria owns two hotels; the Empire is the other one. Accommodation is available at either, at the shortest notice. The clientele and atmosphere are completely different. The Empire stands opposite the club. It is the first building that the visitor sees as he drives up from the pier. Prospective residents use it as a base while they are discovering 'how the land lies'. It has a large hall that is hired for weddings and receptions; meals are served punctually, and breakfast tables are cleared at nine.
The Continental is two blocks away. It advertises itself facing 'the quiet of the Cathedral Close'. The Cathedral stands at the junction of the road over the mountain and the road along the coast. This latter road is also the main shopping thoroughfare. On the other side of it lie the taxi-stand and car park.
Behind these lies the football field. The Continental stands, therefore, in the noisiest corner of the town. It is the hotel that I preferred..."
Ironically, the Continental Hotel was owned and operated by none other than my late father, Richard Mancham - but when I married my first wife in 1963, the wedding reception was held at the Empire Hotel which had just been renamed the Pirates Arms by Mr. Bentley Buckle, who had just become its new owner.
This strategically-placed hotel opposite the Seychelles Club was in fact a very impressive French Colonial wooden building which would have warranted conservation if at that time we had in place a policy of preserving national heritage. Unfortunately, it was left unattended and uncared for and was subsequently demolished. It is there and then that Mr. Michael Oswald and Mr. Ken Roberts decided to buy the site and built the new Pirates Arms as it stands today.
If we must preserve Pirates Arms as it is, in order to commemorate the pioneering efforts and confidence of early investors in Seychelles or to honour the engineering feats of Mr. Roy Garden, who was the engineer behind the construction, this is certainly one thing. But to say that the Pirates Arms Building, as it now stands, constitutes an architectural monument deserving a Seychelles heritage status and therefore qualify for preservation, is certainly another story.
The veracity of the story which we are told about the historical ownership of the Pirates Arms Building remains a puzzle which should be solved. The researcher of the article, you published, wrote "....after 5th of June 1977 coup the Seychelles government acquired the building, the terms of that acquisition are not very clear." I certainly cannot agree with your researcher more - "The terms of acquisition are not very clear."
At all material time, I was a good friend of Mr. Michael Oswald, who had become the sole owner of the property after buying out the shares of his partner, Mr. Ken Roberts, a few months before the coup.
My understanding is that following the coup, Mr Oswald was pressured to sell the property not to the Seychelles government but to one individual. That any individual would acquire a hotel in Seychelles just a few days after a revolutionary coup would suggest, in my view, that this individual was himself involved in the coup or closely associated with those involved in it.
It would therefore be interesting to know precisely the historical truth about the ownership of the Pirates Arms. Who were the real owners? By which process did the government acquire the property? Why was there a need for government to approach Dr. Ramadoss for help as you suggest in your article? And what is all this business about a subsequent offer by Dr. Ramadoss to government to buy the building and how and when did the Pension Fund come in? Some clarifications are certainly called for.
I am sure that a researcher to these questions will be able to demarcate where "privatisation" stopped and "piratisation" began.
James R. Mancham
Editor’s note: It is to be noted that the feature article Mr Mancham is referring to appeared as a paid supplement in Seychelles Nation and that the editorial staff of this newspaper did not contribute in any way to the feature’s contents.
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