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State dithers over Dalai Lama visa

The South African government has been “profoundly disrespectful” towards two Nobel Peace Laureates in its slow response to the visa application by the Dalai Lama.

This was the comment issued by the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and the Office of Tibet in Pretoria in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Credit: REUTERS

The organisations said the application process for the Dalai Lama to visit the country as a guest of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu started more than three months ago. Both spiritual leaders are Nobel Peace Laureates.

The Dalai Lama had been invited to attend Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations, which was set to include a party and an inaugural peace lecture delivered by the Tibetan spiritual leader, in Cape Town next week and has still not heard whether his visa application has been accepted.

Tutu told journalists on Wednesday during interviews in the build-up to his birthday that the way the visa application was being dealt with was reminiscent of the way authorities dealt with applications by black South Africans for travel documents under apartheid.

Nomfundo Walaza, chief executive of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, said the government should have had the courage of its convictions to make a decision on the visa application.

“It would have been much more respectful to have received a negative answer than no answer at all. How can we arrange the visit if we don’t know whether it will be happening? We are an NGO. Who picks up the costs?”

One official in South Africa’s Deputy Ministry of International Relations and Co-operation on Wednesday apologised to the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre for its “tardy” response, the statement said.

Department spokesman Clayson Monyela was recently quoted in the media saying the Dalai Lama’s visa application had been incomplete and was only received in full last week.

Sonam Tenzing of the Office of Tibet in Pretoria dismissed the claim that the Dalai Lama had not fulfilled the technical requirements for the visa application until September 20 as “absurd”.

“The first time our representatives visited the South African High Commission with all relevant documentation they were advised to come back a few weeks later so that the visa would be valid in October.

“When they went back a second time with the documentation they were advised that ‘clearance’ had to be sought from Pretoria. The documentation was accepted on their third visit to the High Commission, following an attempt to apply through the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa.”

Tenzing said that the department had all of the documentation required to make their decision on the visa, and received the physical passport for stamping on September 20 when the Dalai Lama returned from a visit to South America.

“This is a process that His Holiness’s representatives have dealt with many times in the past,” Tenzing said.

The statement detailed each visit between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the High Commission in New Delhi, which official had been addressed and what the outcome had been.

Representatives first visited the South African High Commission in New Delhi on June 29 with a view to securing travel documentation.

Parallel to the technical visa application process in New Delhi, the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre conducted a “sustained formal and informal lobbying exercise” with senior representatives of the South African government. The lobbying was intended to facilitate the visa without the process erupting into a public controversy, the statement said.

The Peace Centre is hosting the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture in Cape Town scheduled to be delivered by the Dalai Lama on Saturday, October 8, the day after Tutu’s birthday.

A number of concerned citizens announced on Wednesday they would be protesting the “stalling and possible denial” of the visa application by protesting outside Parliament on Monday between 6pm and 8pm. - Cape Times

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