Pekingese lapdog to Beijing hotdog

2009-03-28 00:00

ONE has to admit it. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi to refuse a visitor’s visa to the Dalai Lama during the weekend that South Africans are celebrating Human Rights Day.

It’s the kind of chutzpah that emboldened the old apartheid regime to dub its most draconian legislation with the most beguiling names. So, for example, the law that effectively excluded blacks from tertiary institutions became the Extension of University Education Act. The Nationalists, too, loved to deny visas, in order to protect South Africans from foreigners with subversive ideas on human rights and equality.

The Dalai Lama was invited by three South African Nobel Peace Prize laureates to a 2010 Soccer World Cup peace conference. After the visa refusal and the withdrawal of F. W. de Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in protest, the conference collapsed.

The Nats, though, would have applauded the African National Congress’s brazenness in claiming that the reason for nixing the Dalai Lama was out of fear that the issue of Tibet would detract from the World Cup.

One can understand that rampant violent crime might distract from the World Cup. That cholera epidemics, swarms of malnourished, illegal immigrants or unsafe water supplies might distract. That electricity blackouts and poor road and rail infrastructure might distract.

But Tibet? The average football fan would not know the Dalai Lama from the Teletubbies. And as the success of the Beijing Olympics showed, neither presidents, nor players, nor spectators give a stuff about the suppression of Tibet by China.

It all goes to show that the “native intelligence” that former president Thabo Mbeki was assiduously nursing in ANC ranks has come to full bloom. The phrase was meant by Mbeki to be ironic, but instead events show that its practitioners have internalised fully the teachings of their white former “mastahs”.

How else to explain their obliviousness to the irony contained in presidential spokesperson Thabo Masebe’s explanation for the visa refusal? Masebe said such a distraction around Tibet could not be countenanced at a time when “SA is hoping to showcase its transformation from pariah state to international role model”.

Or how about the bald-faced lie by the government that its action was not in response to Chinese pressure. Africa’s newest colonialists contradicted their ANC allies and their Pretoria embassy cheerfully admitted asking South Africa not to allow the visit.

The Chinese said further that Beijing “appreciated efforts by all nations that support China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and oppose Tibetan independence”. China is “resolutely opposed” to any country providing the Dalai Lama with a forum.

The Chinese response to the Dalai Lama sounds a lot like the kind of stuff that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan used to say about Nelson Mandela. And, as one might expect of a new imperial power in the upswing of its ascendancy, China doesn’t bother to camouflage its exercise of influence.

Equally, as one might expect of a South African government that has developed a strong affinity with bandit regimes and unsavoury governments, especially those willing to deposit dollops of largesse into ANC party coffers, being caught telling a fat fib has caused no embarrassment here. Bowing to the inevitable, though, Masebe now admits that the refusal was to protect trade relations with China.

The honourable exception is Health Minister Barbara Hogan, who called on the government to apologise, saying the visa denial is “an example of a government who is dismissive of human rights”. In contrast, invitee Mandela remains shamefully silent.

While the South African government accustoms itself to its new role as a Pekingese lapdog, it should reflect on the fact that the Chinese best like their woof-woofs served with sweet-and-sour sauce.

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