How can we believe Motlanthe?

2011-10-08 10:43

A friend of mine said he was disappointed with the manner in which Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu had reacted to the failure of government to provide a visa to the Dalai Lama.

My gut reaction was to say we should be even more disappointed with government’s inability to handle what, at least on the surface, seems to be a mundane administrative issue.

A person who applies for a visa to visit our country should, as soon as possible, get a direct nod or disapproval.

What happened this week can be interpreted as another example of indecisiveness on the part of government, where the state dragged its feet until a visa applicant was forced to pull out.

It would be understandable if this act was just an aberration. Unfortunately, it has become part of a regular pattern of paralysis we have come to expect.

I somehow find it hard to believe Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s reported comments that the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader would have been granted a visa had he not cancelled his travel plans.

How am I to believe him when this very government reneged on its promise in 2009 that the Dalai Lama would be welcome to visit South Africa in future?

The less said about the credibility of a government spokesperson, who told us without a hint of irony that we always take foreign policy decisions without any external influence, the better.

Maybe former president Nelson Mandela was a bit idealistic when he declared in 1993 that human rights would be the ANC government’s cornerstone in foreign policy.

Some would argue that we can’t ignore the fact that our trade relations with China are worth more than R120?billion.

While I realise that realpolitik and economic interests play a key role in driving foreign policy, we can’t dispense with values as though they do not matter at all.

 Our own foreign policy white paper declares that ubuntu is a core value, even though we have clearly displayed none in our handling of the Dalai Lama’s visa application.

After all, it was the human rights values that the global community espoused which eventually made it possible for other countries to recognise the justness of our cause against apartheid.

Had influential countries attached more weight to considering their economic relations with apartheid South Africa than on the need for liberation, black South Africans would still be oppressed.

Government has not been forthcoming about what is happening with the visa application. A couple of days ago, I put its behaviour down to the fact that the application process coincided with Motlanthe’s official visit to China.

I thought maybe the Department of International Relations and Co-operation was merely buying time and would grant the application once Motlanthe returned.

But let’s leave aside the issue of China’s sensitivity over Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s politics for now.
What I fail to understand is how as a country we could frustrate the man’s plans to visit his friend – a private citizen?– to avoid offending our trade partner.

Surely it’s not as if there was an expectation that government would extend its courtesies and hospitality to the man.

Have we become such an acquiescing partner in this evidently uneven relationship with China that we are prepared to do anything to please Beijing?

Are we saying we are so hellbent on pleasing our Brics partner that we are prepared to do away with the core values of our Constitution when it is convenient and expedient?

It still baffles me how India, a fellow Brics member, continues to provide a home in exile for the Dalai Lama. This as its economic relations with China increase.

A country with our kind of history displays short-sightedness when it acts the way we did.

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