Thursday, June 7, 2007
Last month I attended the graduation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former president of Haiti. UNISA awarded him a doctorate in African languages for his investigation into the relationship between isiZulu and Creole, his native tongue from Haiti. Aristide is exiled to South Africa after he was kidnapped and carried out of Haiti by US, French and Canadian forces. President Mbeki and the first lady, Zenele Mbeki, attended. I was seated right behind them and Smuts Ngonyama, head of the Presidency, a very warm and gentle person by the way, was sitting in the same row as myself. Barney Pitanya, Black Consciousness activist and Vice-Chancellor, was the master of ceremony. Given the importance of the relationship between Mbeki and Aristide, to emphasize the ties between the diaspora and the African continent, forging alliances across the global South and showing solidarity with those who advocate pro-poor policies, the theme of Africanization was written all over the ceremony. Speaker after speaker drove the point home about the importance of African languages and the dire legacy of colonialism. At times, I found the ideology of the speeches quite overbearing. While the need for redress is quite evident in South Africa, and there is certainly a steep road ahead to achieve this, one should be careful not to short-circuit history and the complexities of cultures for the sake of ideology. The irony is that this is the same UNISA where some refuse to teach certain important European literary works deemed too subversive, ie. communist! Too much ideology, not matter from which corner, can do no good.