Mahatma Gandhi Award goes to an empty chair

2011-10-10 00:00

AN empty chair in front of a large photograph of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, on the stage at the Durban City Hall was a constant reminder that the recipient of the Mahatma Gandhi Award for Reconciliation and Peace was unable to be present to receive the award yesterday, thanks to not being granted a visa by the South African government in time to attend the function.

As well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s birthday celebrations, the Dalai Lama was scheduled to attend a number of functions during his intended short visit.

At yesterday’s Gandhi Development Trust Satyagraha awards ceremony trust chairperson Paddy Kearney delivered a statement objecting to the denial of a visa for someone “of similar stature to our own beloved Madiba” calling it a “day of shame” and an act “emulating actions of previous apartheid governments”.

A candle was lit beside the chair where the Dalai Lama would have sat.

In the citation for the award, the Dalai Lama was praised for his promotion of human rights and his concern for the environment using “non-violent means in the true Gandhian tradition”.

In a pre-recorded video message shown during the award ceremony, the Dalai Lama said he is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and that his advocacy of non-violent views “are very relevant to today’s world”.

The Dalai Lama said his application for a visa appeared to inconvenience the South African government and as the time for his departure drew near without his receiving it he decided to withdraw the application.

Elizabeth Gaywood, co-founder of the Tibet Society of South Africa, read the Dalai Lama’s favourite prayer from the Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva.

Sonam Tensing, the representative of the Dalai Lama in South Africa, thanked the trust for the award.

The award will be kept in Durban in the hope the Dalai Lama will be able to receive it in person. “We hope this will happen soon,” said Kearney.

In the event it doesn’t, the award will be taken to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan administration in exile.

The presenting of the award formed part of the Gandhi Development Trust’s annual Satyagraha awards ceremony.

These were awarded to anti-apartheid activists Getrude Shope, Maniben Sita, Sam Ramsamy, and the late Rabbi Bugwandeen.

A joint award was given to Saydoon Nisa Sayed and Paddy Meskin in recognition of their interfaith work.

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