Dalai Lama would've received visa - Motlanthe

2011-10-05 11:30

Johannesburg - The government would have granted the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country if he hadn't cancelled his trip, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was reported to have said on Wednesday.

"Of course, he has been here before, I don't see why it should be an issue at all," Motlanthe told The Star newspaper.

The country denied it was influenced by China over issuing a visa to the Tibetan spiritual leader after Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu called authorities worse than the apartheid government for dithering on the issue.

"South Africa ... is a sovereign country. We make decisions based on our domestic interest," foreign affairs spokesperson Clayson Monyela told Talk Radio 702.

"We are not bullied, we are not pressured, we are not influenced by anybody in making decisions."

Tutu outburst

The Dalai Lama was due to leave Thursday to attend the 80th birthday celebrations of Tutu, his longtime friend and fellow Nobel Peace laureate, but cancelled the trip on Monday as his visa had not been granted.

Tutu reacted by lambasting President Jacob Zuma's government in a nationally televised news conference, threatening to pray for the downfall of the ANC.

"Hey Mr Zuma, you and your government don't represent me. You represent your own interests," said Tutu who invited the Tibetan to give an inaugural peace lecture.

"I am warning you, one day we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government. You are disgraceful. I want to warn you, you are behaving in a way that is totally at variance with the things for which we stood," he said.

Monyela emphasised that the Dalai Lama was not refused a visa.

"We were still subjecting this application to the application processes when he took the decision to cancel," he said.

"The high commission in New Delhi, India, was actually going to communicate with him yesterday evening or this morning Indian time in terms of the feedback from the application processes."

The visa application process took time because of the logistics involved in such a high-profile visit, Monyela added.

Lack of moral fibre
 
But the daily newspaper Business Day said "no one is fooled" by the official response.

"Is it really in SA’s interests to send a message to the world that our principles are up for sale to the highest bidder?" it asked in its editorial.

The Cape Times said the state's "disingenuous responses ... serve as the flimsiest of fig leaves: the truth is that it chose not to offend China, which regards the Dalai Lama as an enemy."

"This is beyond just disappointing: it suggests a lack of moral fibre and an ineptness in the foreign policy arena."

The Times warned of "immeasurable" damage to South Africa's reputation.

"How do we begin to negate the perception that our autonomy is being threatened by the relationships we want to foster with trading partners such as China?" it asked.

"Even if the government denies being influenced by China, is there anyone out there who will believe it?"

Meanwhile the country's National Interfaith Council called on the government "not to sacrifice important values that we as South Africans are known for, for international trade," referring to biggest trade partner China.

The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where the Dalai Lama would have given a lecture, will stage a protest march on Wednesday over the visa debacle, it said.

Read more on:    international relations  |  desmond tutu  |  dalai lama
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