Originally: Sa Not ‘Propping Up’ Aristide

SA not ‘propping up’ Aristide

Pretoria – President Thabo Mbeki’s visit last week to conflict-ridden Haiti had not been about “propping up” that country’s government, but about celebrating its two hundredth year of independent rule, his office said on Monday.

Mbeki had also explained this to representatives of that country’s political opposition when he met them over the weekend, said presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo.

He said it was not up to South Africa to express disapproval or otherwise of the Haiti government.

“Haitians themselves must decide the make-up of their government,” Khumalo said.

He rejected criticism of the visit by the Democratic Alliance, saying it had been important for South Africa to attend the festivities as they “linked up” with the country’s own celebration this year of 10 years of democracy.

It all had to do with an affirmation of the dignity of black people, the African renaissance, and the African diaspora, Khumalo explained.

“For us it was important in that sense.”

Last week’s festivities were held to mark 200 years of Haitian independence from France – creating the world’s first African republic.

DA leader Tony Leon earlier said he would use the State of the Nation debate next month to demand to know the full costs of Mbeki’s visit and what benefits it held for South Africa.

Khumalo said he did not know the cost implications.

Leon accused Mbeki of “propping up yet another international outcast –and in the process misusing millions of taxpayers’ rands. He described Aristide as “the Mugabe of the Caribbean”, and lamented that country’s human rights record.

Mbeki, who returned to South Africa on Saturday, left Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma behind in Haiti to finalise discussions with different parties on the situation in the island state.

Khumalo denied media reports that Mbeki had returned prematurely.

Civil unrest in Haiti has left 37 dead and 92 wounded since September, with anti-government protesters calling for Aristide’s resignation.

The Pan Africanist Congress said it disagreed with those who believed South African leaders should only visit countries from which there might be monetary gain.

“The majority of the people in the world are poor. They must be assisted. They are the concern of progressive mankind,” PAC president Motsoko Pheko said in a statement.

South Africa should not abandon the people of Haiti in “their hour of darkness”, he added.

The PAC was, however, concerned that poor intelligence about the true state of affairs in Haiti resulted in too much taxpayers’ money having to be spent on Mbeki’s security.

That money would have been better spent on the poor of South Africa, Pheko said.