Dalai Lama visa 'inconvenient' for SA

2011-10-04 12:08

Cape Town - The Dalai Lama said on Tuesday that he had cancelled his planned trip to South Africa to spare the government any further inconvenience.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader made the decision as he was still waiting for a response to his visa application three days before he was due in South Africa to attend the birthday of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

"His Holiness was to depart for South Africa on October 6, but visas have not been granted yet," his office said in a statement.

"We are, therefore, now convinced that for whatever reason or reasons, the South African government finds it inconvenient to issue a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

"His Holiness has thus decided to call off his upcoming visit to South Africa, and he regrets the inconvenience caused to his hosts and the large number of the South African public who are keenly waiting to receive him and hear his message."

'Darkest day'

The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre lamented the government's reluctance to allow one of the world's best known religious figures into the country.

"I do not even have the words to say how sad I feel. This is the darkest day. Our officials felt it was not even important to respond to his application," said the centre's spokesperson Nomfundo Wazala.

The University of the Witwatersrand also expressed dismay.

"We, as South Africans, have a moral obligation to provide a platform for all voices to be heard, including the voice of the Dalai Lama.

"The university condemns the state for once again not granting a visa for this stalwart of peace to enter our country," said Prof Loyiso Nongxa, the university's vice-chancellor and principal.

"The state's deliberate indecision ridicules the values pertaining to freedom of speech, expression and movement enshrined in our Constitution, and the freedoms for which so many South African have lived, and indeed died," he said.

The Dalai Lama applied for a visa in August, but after weeks of official silence on the matter it was widely expected that the government would again bow to pressure from China, its biggest trade partner.

Beijing describes the Dalai Lama as a "splittist" and discourages foreign governments from receiving him, even though he accepts Chinese rule of Tibet.

Vigil


At a candlelight vigil outside Parliament on Monday, the Congress of SA Trade Unions criticised the government for allowing China to "dictate" its foreign policy.

"Even though China is our biggest trading partner, we should not exchange our morality for dollars or yuan," Cosatu's Western Cape leader Tony Ehrenreich told the gathering.

"It is completely inappropriate and discriminatory that the Dalai Lama should be denied access. Our democracy is founded on diversity, imperfect as it is."

Businesswoman Mamphela Ramphele said at the vigil that both Tutu and the Dalai Lama had been unfairly treated.

"Isn't it ironic that when he's celebrating his 80th birthday, the most fundamental right, the right to association, is being taken away from him?

"He can't have a party with his friends and they are just old men," Ramphele said, according to an SABC radio news report.

She said Tutu and the Dalai Lama were "not really a threat to anybody".

'Not fair'

"So why would anybody really want to disturb a lovely party for a lovely set of old men? It's really not fair."

The trip would have been the Nobel peace laureate's fourth to South Africa.

The Dalai Lama visited South Africa on three occasions between 1996 and 2004, and met 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.

That decision drew sharp criticism from abroad and at home.

- SAPA
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