Global prostitutes

2011-10-06 00:00

WE live in crazy times when two old men can’t get together for a birthday party. But when these men are peace activists and spiritual authorities, and their tea party is being stopped by a former liberation movement, because the former liberators are now fascist dictators in training, it should worry us all.

“Unbelievable”, “the darkest day”, “a national shame” and “a huge, huge publicity disaster” are just some reactions to the ANC government denying the Dalai Lama’s visa. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was furious. “Hey Mr Zuma, you and your government don’t represent me,” he said. “You represent your own interests.” Voices of reason, like the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, are falling on deaf ears.

Any hope of a moral regeneration agenda died this week. If the ANC sees no point in having public lectures delivered by a foremost spiritual teacher, preaching unity, compassion, and generosity, then the ANC has lost its soul. It must be so embarrassing to be an ANC member.

Unable to find legitimate security threat reasons to deny a visa (I mean, come on, who’d be running for safety if approached by an ageing monk in a saffron robe?), the government labelled it an “inconvenience”. I think unethical leadership is a bigger inconvenience.

Cosatu’s Tony Ehrenreich hit the nail on the head. “Even though China is our biggest trading partner, we should not exchange our morality for dollars or yuan.” That’s the point, isn’t it?

This incident is more than just a tea party between friends. It’s about principles and values. China is an economic partner and, sure, we need money. But don’t we need values-based leadership as well? One that is infused with a global ethic of humanity, represented by people like the Dalai Lama and Tutu.

A related issue is the dearth of strong religious leaders who are not afraid to take on political injustices. Our religious leaders have become voiceless and invisible, allowing themselves to be slowly erased from the public sphere. Even Tutu commented that during one of Zuma’s State of the Nation speeches, “I listened to this president paying tribute to all kinds of people who had helped bring about democracy in this country, [but] this president did not mention a single religious leader. Let the ANC know that they cannot airbrush us out.”

The Gandhi Development Trust, which was to award the Tibetan Buddhist leader, quietly suggested that it may Skype him instead. Although you can’t share cake over a computer screen, we should encourage more acts of technological rebellion. After all, the ANC can’t stop the Dalai Lama’s virtual presence (well, depending how far down the Chinese rabbit hole they’ve gone, I wonder if online suppression will soon be debated). Wits University and other hosts should continue to have the Dalai Lama deliver public talks via the Internet, project it on huge screens, and ensure that his presence is felt throughout the country.

Unisa’s professor Tinyiko Maluleke correctly lamented: “Why is South Africa allowing itself to act in this manner when it has the history that it has, the Constitution that it has ... led by the government of a liberation movement ... Why is South Africa doing this? I think it is quite a sad day.”

Sad, indeed. And ironic, as we deny a Buddhist monk the opportunity to teach values-based living, the ANC has succumbed to the Buddhist dictum that life will always be suffering as long we run after illusory material desires. As a government, the ANC will always fall short of sustainable solutions for our social ills if it overemphasises the material level of change, and ignores the salience of values.

Even if the Dalai Lama is ever allowed into our country, the message is clear. The ANC has friends with money and it will buckle to silent Chinese demands. This is symbolic of the worldwide trend of unbridled materialism replacing the moral compass that spiritual systems can offer us.

South Africa is now just another global prostitute, sleeping with the dragon from the East.

• Suntosh Pillay is a clinical psychologist who writes independently on social issues.

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