Johannesburg - The Dalai Lama can expect another invitation to come to South Africa soon – from fellow Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
This, after a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal that the government acted unlawfully in delaying a decision on a visa application by the Dalai Lama.
Last October, the Dalai cancelled a planned visit to South Africa to attend Tutu’s 80th birthday party. He said he had done so to avoid inconveniencing the South African government.
This caused a strong public outcry over the government’s failure to grant the Tibetan spiritual leader a visa – and an outraged Tutu accused the government of being worse than the apartheid regime for its actions.
Tutu has welcomed the appeal court finding, saying an independent judiciary was a critical cornerstone in a democracy.
“This finding of our appeal court reflects positively on our judiciary and our country,” Tutu said.
“His Holiness is the holiest person I have had the fortune to meet. He has endured more than 50 years in exile. His grace, magnanimity and lack of bitterness are truly remarkable.
I look forward to seeing him again, and perhaps I will invite him to my 90th birthday,” Tutu said.
An elated IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said: “We are inviting the Dalai Lama to come to South Africa as soon as it is convenient for him, and we look forward to having him in our midst again to share with him the bond of peace, love and enlightenment.”
Buthelezi said the decision vindicated the view that the government had broken the country’s laws in doing so.
Addressing a joint media conference, via a telephone link-up from Ulundi, Buthelezi said it was unfortunate that the government had bowed to pressure from China over the issue, saying: “I don’t think we should grovel to the extent that we do unconstitutional things.
“Today’s judgment… begs the question as to why, in our democracy, we would need to go all the way to one of the highest courts in the land to force our government to do what our government should do,” Buthelezi said.
“He is a Nobel Peace laureate and holds no political office or function… This begs the question as to why our government, in twice preventing the entry of the Dalai Lama to South Africa, would do something so opposite to the will of the South African people, the values of our constitution and all that is good, noble and decent in public affairs.
“Has our government really lost the moral compass? Is it a government without principles?”
Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said he was thrilled that, “once again”, the rule of law had been upheld in the matter, saying it had proceeded from the rights of all citizens to freedom of association.
The DA’s Sandy Kalyan said she was “absolutely delighted” at the decision, adding that South Africa’s name would now be vindicated abroad.
A unanimous judgment by a full Bench found that former home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma had unreasonably delayed the decision. The court found that officials had shown “deliberate procrastination”.
Buthelezi and Lekota then filed an application in the Cape High Court, asking for the handling of the matter to be declared unlawful.
The court ruled against them, after finding that the issue was moot, as the Dalai Lama had cancelled his trip after getting no response to his visa application.
A 2009 visa application by the Dalai Lama, to attend an international prayer conference for peace, was also unsuccessful.
Lekota said that, in passing the judgment, the court had vindicated the rights of South African citizens to “have access to their friends as they choose”.
“If Archbishop Tutu or any citizen of SA were to invite a friend to visit them… whether the majority party does not like it… is irrelevant.
“The right given to us is that we may associate with whoever we want to associate with. The South African government cannot allow itself to be told by another government to defy the constitution… and to not allow its citizens to meet this individual.”
The DA’s Kalyan said it was a disgrace that the Dalai Lama’s application had been shifted back and forth between the departments of Home Affairs and International Relations.
Sapa reported that Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor would study the ruling, with immigration director-general Jackie McKay saying the department respected the ruling.