SA ‘about to tell’ Dalai Lama about visa

2011-10-03 13:14

South Africa was about to tell the Dalai Lama whether he would get a visa to the country, international relations spokesman Clayson Monyela said today. He reiterated that the media would not be informed.

“We will communicate the decision to the applicant, which we are doing now,” Monyela told Sapa around 11am.

He conceded that the matter was of public interest as it concerned South Africa’s foreign policy on China – the country’s biggest trading partner – and Chinese-ruled Tibet.

It was for this reason his department, and not home affairs, was handling the matter.

“That is why we are dealing with it,” he said.

President Jacob Zuma said in the morning he did not know whether the Dalai Lama’s South African visa would be approved.

“I don’t know what will be the final thing. I don’t think that you can get a definite answer from me,” Zuma said at a business breakfast in Sandton.

“I don’t know whether I should answer this question, because there are departments that are dealing with it. How do I know?”

City Press quoted an unnamed diplomatic source on Sunday as saying it was “unlikely” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader would be granted a visa, because the government did not want to strain its ties with China.

The Dalai Lama (76) was invited to attend fellow Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations, to be held this coming weekend.

He visited South Africa on three occasions between 1996 and 2004, and met both former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

In 2009, he was refused entry by the Zuma administration to attend a conference of Nobel laureates. The government said the visit would detract from preparations for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The decision drew criticism from abroad and at home, with the then public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan saying it reflected poorly on the government.

“Just the very fact that this government has refused entry to the Dalai Lama is an example of a government who is dismissive of human rights,” said Hogan.

She was reprimanded and forced to apologise to her Cabinet colleagues.

Tutu termed the decision “disgraceful” and University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) vice chancellor Loyiso Nongxa said it “ridicules the values enshrined in our Constitution”.

Wits has again invited the Dalai Lama to speak at the university, and another outcry is expected if he is again denied entry into South Africa.

Tonight, civil society campaigners were to hold a candlelight vigil outside Parliament to put pressure on the government.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since fleeing Tibet during a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

He accepts Chinese rule, but Beijing accuses him of being a separatist and routinely warns government leaders against meeting with him.

In July, China signalled its displeasure after United States President Barack Obama received the Dalai Lama at the White House.

The Dalai Lama stepped down from political life earlier this year and was not due to meet any senior government officials during his planned eight-day trip to South Africa.

As part of Tutu’s birthday celebrations from October 6 to 8, he was expected to deliver a speech titled “Peace and compassion as catalyst for change” to students.

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