South Africa has agreed to give former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide a temporary home nearly three months after an armed revolt forced him to flee his poor Caribbean country, the Government Communications and Information Services (GCIS) confirmed on Thursday.
This followed a day-long Cabinet lekgotla (meeting) on Wednesday to discuss this and other issues.
GCIS spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe said the arrangement will be a temporary one until the situation in Haiti has stabilised to the extent that it will be possible for Aristide and his family to return.
On Monday an official request to offer Aristide a place to stay until his situation has “normalised’ was received. The African Union made the request after it was approached by the Caribbean Economic Community (Caricom).
In a media briefing in Pretoria, Netshitenzhe said South Africa has agreed to take responsibility for Aristide’s residence and upkeep.
“In acceding to this request South Africa seeks to contribute to international efforts to bring stability to Haiti. South Africa has a responsibility, as an African country and as part of the international community, to ensure that democracy and peace prevail in Haiti and that the people of this country are able democratically to elect their leaders,” he said.
Netshitenzhe said the government supports the call for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Aristide’s removal from office and is committed to building international consensus against unilateral regime changes.
“We hope that all South Africans will handle this matter with dignity and maturity. We believe that as we mature as a democracy and as a country that has got this important role to play in international relations, we would all come to appreciate that international diplomacy does not lend itself to mathematical equations where you would have precise condition of comfort and discomfort, precise resolutions to problems with precise answers,” he said.
He said the Aristide government was the first democratically elected government in “many, many decades” in Haiti.
“There might have been weaknesses yes, but this can’t be comparable with dictatorial regimes that came before them,” he said.
The South African government believes it is not correct that any country, no matter how powerful, should unilaterally seek to remove governments from power, especially democratically elected governments, he said.
South Africa seeks to create an environment that will contribute towards the return of peace and security to Haiti.
“While he is here he will contribute either directly or indirectly with the United Nations to ensure that peace and stability is returned in Haiti,” said Netshitenzhe.
Aristide’s arrival date and number of entourage are still to be determined.
Aristide (50) is currently in Jamaica, where he arrived on March 15 from the Central African Republic, his first destination following his resignation in late February. It is believed Aristide will take up residence in Pretoria under tight security.
The government said the United States and France have agreed that Aristide should go to South Africa.
Responding to speculation surrounding the length of time Aristide is to stay in South Africa, Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad said Haiti will be holding elections shortly and that Aristide’s own party is participating. He believed the outcome of the elections will determine the length of Aristide’s visit to South Africa.
The former priest, who was first elected in 1990 and was ousted in a coup in 1991, only to return to power with US military backing in 1994, had said from the outset that he wanted to come to South Africa.
But the government has let it be known that it did not want to agree to the controversial move ahead of the April 14 election, which President Thabo Mbeki’s African National Congress won by a landslide.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance has spoken out against allowing Aristide into South Africa, arguing that his democratic credentials are in doubt and that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill to support him.
It also said that France and the US should take him if they forced him to step down.
“The governments that are responsible for removing him from power should take responsibility for looking after him in exile. France and the US were very prominent in this regard; why not send him to Paris?” said Douglas Gibson, foreign affairs spokesperson for the party. — Sapa