Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said the government was planning to grant the Dalai Lama a visa, according to a newspaper report on Wednesday.
The Star newspaper said it had asked Motlanthe if the government would have granted the Tibetan spiritual leader a visa if he had not cancelled his trip to attend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations at the weekend.
Motlanthe replied, according to The Star: “Of course, he has been here before. I don't see why it should be an issue at all.”
Motlanthe, who recently concluded a trip to China, denied that there had been pressure from Beijing not to grant the Dalai Lama the visa.
It is widely believed the government had buckled under pressure from China - its biggest trading partner - which deems the Tibetan spiritual leader a “splittist” and discourages foreign leaders from hosting him.
prominent SA celebrities, media personalities and politicians took to social networking site Twitter on Wednesday to express their opinions and disappointment with the cancelled Dalai Lama visit.
Journalist Max du Preez said: “Ban the Dalai Lama, ban reporter Deon de Lange from parliament. Ban, ban, ban. Who do you think you are - Ban ki Moon (United Nations secretary general)?”
He also said earlier: “Just had breakfast with senior Western diplomat. Says no doubt SA could have allowed Dalai Lama with only few grumbles from Beijing.”
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille posted on Twitter in support of Tutu.
“Pray by all means - and vote!” she tweeted.
City Press editor Ferial Haffajee posted: “’We will pray for your downfall.’ Turning-point has just arrived. Ndebele, Tutu, Tutu, Ntsebeza… ”
Earlier in the month she posted: “How can we not give a visa to the Dalai Lama? Mandela's South Africa? Tutu's South Africa? Maybe we aren't that anymore… make a noise!”
Business Day editor Peter Bruce tweeted: “Govt complains Dalai Lama 'only' applied for visa on September 20. What takes so long? I applied for a Cuban visa last month. It took a day.”
Nelson Mandela's personal assistant Zelda la Grange tweeted in response to 5FM DJ and SA Idol's judge Gareth Cliff: [email protected] thank goodness for #idolsSA finals so we can be distracted from this Dalai Lama embarrassment!”
She posted earlier: “Sad that Dalai Lama visa saga will take away from the conviction with which Arch deserves to be celebrated at 80. He'll only turn 80 once.”
Satirical politician and media personality Evita Bezuidenhout added humour to the situation.
“Never had a problem with Red China. Looks lovely on a white tablecloth. But if they insult Tutu and the Lama, I will have to change my mind,” Tannie Evita posted.
Radio 702 presenter Kieno Kammies tweeted: “The pimple on the bum of Africa, Mugabe is allowed in, but not the dalai lama eish!!!!! The revolution has fallen flat on its face.” - Sapa