Let the Lama in: no dompas works here

2011-10-01 08:38

It is 1994.

President Nelson Mandela is being inaugurated at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Foreign guests from every corner of the globe arrive, many in their own jets.

Cuba’s Fidel Castro gets a standing ovation from the liberation movement’s seats when he arrives.

Decorum and protocol are thrown to the wind as the crowd thanks him for his stoic support of the liberation of South Africa. It is a great moment.

When then US deputy president Al Gore shows up he gets polite applause.

The new government elects a dozy first foreign minister but the foreign policy is geared toward a moral and principled ­diplomacy.

It didn’t matter then that the US, still the major global power, frowned upon South Africa’s special relationship with Cuba and with ­Palestine.

It didn’t matter that the US tried to exert pressure on South Africa to form part of the bulwark within which the US has constrained and choked the Cuban economy. We were having none of it.

Eighteen years on and South Africa’s moral diplomacy is a shadow of what it was, despite the green paper on international relations promising that our geopolitical position will be led by principle and morality.

Instead, we risk becoming a dompas nation, civil society warned this week, as it ramped up a plan to push the state to give a ­visa to the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of occupied Tibet.

He is a global symbol of peace and the spiritual leader of Buddhists. His message is simply one of peace.

“The applicant”, as the bureaucrats at the Department of International Relations and Cooperations call him, was still awaiting a visa at the time of writing.

How cruel is it to keep him hanging when all the Dalai Lama wants to do is spend the day with his friend and fellow leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who turns 80 on October 7.

Our Arch is sad. And the ANC should bow its head in shame at how 18 years have shifted its stance from one of morality to one of expedience.

While denials flow faster than the chops of a black belt karateka, it is clear to all but the most naive that the silent hand of China is at play.

China uses diplomatic torture on nations that give visas to the Dalai Lama – he has been ­refused a visa to come to South Africa before. ­Almost the entire national executive committee of the ANC has been on junkets to Beijing; China has its own sub-committee on the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum, the party’s funding arm.

There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s clever to be on good terms with China but South Africa trades on our moral standing in the world. We should welcome the Dalai Lama, otherwise it will be clear that the ANC has exchanged its black belt in morality for a yellow belt in cowardice. 

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