Friday, July 10, 2009

Aristide's SA high life to continue

(Note: If Mr. Aristide's circle of defenders has now been whittled down to the likes of veteran perjurer and unfulfilled triggerman Patrick Elie, his influence has sunk very low indeed. MD)

Aristide's SA high life to continue

July 05 2009 at 02:12PM

By Fiona Forde

The Sunday Independent

(Read the original article here)

A chauffeur-driven white Mercedes pulls up at the entrance to Unisa's Samuel Pauw building, with a BMW in tow, from which security guards emerge to escort the former head of state the few metres to his fifth-floor office. One guard walks in front of him. The other follows a few steps behind.

An ante-room leading to his main office is guarded under lock and key, even when he is inside. A side room houses his security guards who keep watch whenever he is around.

Outside, the engine of his Mercedes purrs all day long, for fear he will have to make a quick escape. This is Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former president of Haiti, who controversially remains exiled in South Africa, his multimillion-rand lifestyle and protection package here bankrolled by taxpayers.

Thabo Mbeki's government afforded him, his wife and two daughters shelter here in 2004 when he was ousted from office in Port-au-Prince shortly after his second term began. Because he was a head of state, the South African government also agreed to "cover the costs of the stay of President Aristide, his family, staff and entourage in South Africa", according to Parliament's records in 2006. "The monthly costs of his accommodation, transport, office support staff and security are similar to the cost normally incurred for a South African cabinet minister," the official record reads.

Sue van der Merwe, the deputy minister for international relations, has confirmed the agreement is still in place, though she was unable to put a tally on the cost to the taxpayer to date, or confirm for how much longer the agreement would remain in place.

Yet it is said that Aristide was a wealthy man when he fled his impoverished country five years ago, though what became of his money is something that continues to elude the authorities.

When asked if he brought any money into South Africa, Van der Merwe said she did not know.

Allegations of corruption continue to haunt Aristide and investigations are ongoing. His critics suggest that his wealth is vast, so vast that he could well afford to foot his own bill here… and more.

Gerard Latortue, a former United Nations official who headed the interim government after Aristide fled, told The Sunday Independent that Aristide's wealth was undisputed in most circles. "And yes, of course, he could pay his way in South Africa. This man is a multi-millionaire."

However, according to Van der Merwe, "Mr Aristide would like to go back to Haiti" now, but she said the local authorities were concerned for his safety.

It is a view that was confirmed by Patrick Elie, Aristide's close friend and former defence minister.

"Yes, he would like to come back," Elie said from his Port-au- Prince home. "But to do what exactly, I don't know. This is something that cannot be improvised. It would be very, very delicate."

In response, Haiti's foreign minister, Alrich Nicolas, said that, "under the constitution, Aristide can come back", but he would not be drawn on the fate he might face if he did.

Aristide, biding his time at Unisa, is unlikely to test those uncertain waters.

Shortly after his arrival in 2004, Aristide, who was then 50, was offered a research position at the human sciences faculty, which he still holds to this day.

Some years later his wife, Mildred, took up a post at the Centre for African Renaissance Studies, which is also housed at Unisa, and which she still holds today. However, neither of them draws a salary, according to Unisa spokesperson Doreen Gough. "They only have the use of the offices they occupy to carry out their work," she said.

Aristide, a former priest and long-time scholar of theology, was awarded a doctorate by Unisa in 2006 for his comparative study of Haitian Creole and Zulu in a body of work called Umoya Wamagama, or The Spirit of the Word. He was lauded a brilliant mind for the parallels he had drawn between the two languages and the inferences he made about their linguistic histories. His graduation was a big celebration, and the photos of himself and Mbeki on the day paint a picture of contentment.

Some months later, however, his research was called into disrepute when three prominent African linguists said his work made a mockery of local languages. Spelling errors were also found in some of the Zulu words, which weakened the comparisons he was making.

Fellow academics cried foul when it was discovered that the professor who promoted the thesis was also the man who corrected it.

However, Aristide withstood the criticism and the doctorate remained intact.

"He really enjoys intellectual and academic life," claims Elie.

It is unclear, though, what contribution Aristide is making to Unisa's body of academic work.


Amber said...

Good grief and good riddens. Na we jame.

Anonymous said...

Thks for posting this, Michael. Next time you are in Haiti come and eat at our home. You know you are always welcome. Ti Djo's Mom