Dalai Lama still waiting for visa decision

2011-10-03 16:15

Cape Town - The Dalai Lama was on Monday afternoon still waiting to hear whether he would get a visa to South Africa, a representative of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said.

"We have not been told anything. I spoke to my colleague in New Delhi and they are still waiting. The high commission has closed now for the day," Sonam Tenzing said.

Tenzing said high commission staff in the Indian capital told his colleagues they were still awaiting a decision from Pretoria "because it is a political decision".

The Dalai Lama, 76, is hoping to travel to Cape Town to attend the 80th birthday celebrations of his friend and fellow Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Friday.

With time running out, international relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela indicated on Monday a decision was imminent, but would be communicated only to the Dalai Lama and not the media.

"We will communicate the decision to the applicant, which we are doing now," Monyela told Sapa.

He conceded 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.

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

Minister

But Monyela declined to comment on suggestions from diplomats in New Delhi that it was a top level decision that would be taken by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane herself.

Earlier on Monday, President Jacob Zuma said he had no hand the decision.

He told a business breakfast in Johannesburg: "I don't know what will be the final thing. I don't think that you can get a definite answer from me."

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, applied for the visa in August.

He 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. The decision drew criticism from abroad and at home, with 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 and principal 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.

Vigil

On Monday night, 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.

- SAPA
Read more on:    maite nkoana-mashabane  |  desmond tutu  |  dalai lama  |  jacob zuma  |  india  |  cape town  |  china  |  politics
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