Our rights are being denied

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama holds the hand of a leprosy-affected patient during his visit to a leprosy colony in New Delhi March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY RELIGION)

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama holds the hand of a leprosy-affected patient during his visit to a leprosy colony in New Delhi March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY RELIGION)

Published Sep 15, 2014


Chaeli Mycroft

DEAR President Zuma,

I am a Madiba baby – a child of freedom – born in August 1994. I have grown up in an era in which every person has the freedom of choice: I have the right to be who I wish to be and hold whatever views I have, even if they oppose the views of others. Even if they oppose your views, Mr President.

I have learned throughout my life of the immense efforts made and the struggles faced by so many people to create the incredible country in which we live, a democracy for which people fought for so many years. I am a wheelchair user and an ability activist and I have dealt with my fair share of challenges and discrimination, but this has never caused me to lose faith in the power of the South African people to be a society where we can say that our lives are shaped by Ubuntu.

Much of the fight for democracy was initiated by young people, passionate about the rights that ensure democracy, fairness and justice. The voices of the youth of South Africa need to be heard in each generation to continue a national dialogue that remains relevant and it is in this spirit that I add my voice today.

I’m confused. I find it difficult to understand why granting a visa to His Holiness Dalai Lama to attend the annual Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in Cape Town in October, is seen as impossible. The Dalai Lama is the global image for peace. Everywhere he goes a core message is spread – Peace. Peace for all people. Peace no matter your religious beliefs, your socio-economic standing, or your geographical location.

Peace should not be determined by political alliances but by the power of people and an unwavering mission for equality in a society where everybody has a place. Is this not what the Struggle for a democratic South Africa was all about?

This occasion marks the third visa refusal in a period of five years whereby the Dalai Lama has been denied entry to the country. The reason often given for these refusals being that it is not in the best interests of the South African people. Or delay tactics are employed so that through unspoken means the “message” is sent that he is unwelcome.

How difficult is it to issue a visa? Ordinary people get theirs within a week or so – one would think that a world leader would not have to jump through hoops and wait this long for a visa to be issued. There has been a massive outcry from members of the public and prominent leaders, whom you profess to serve as president of our country. Is now not a time to take note of the voices of the people whom you represent?

As a member of the “Born Free” generation I am so proud of how far our country has come and am so grateful that I was born in 1994 at the dawn of our democracy. But bearing witness to actions like the refusal of a visa to an iconic man of peace like the Dalai Lama, I have concerns about the future. It makes me wonder how sincerely our leaders and you, Mr President, truly cherish freedom in general terms and more specifically freedom of speech, when a man of peace like the Dalai Lama is denied entry into South Africa.

What saddens me most about this visa application debacle is that it denies the South African people a chance to learn from The Dalai Lama’s peaceful leadership and to experience his wisdom.

In denying the Dalai Lama, you are also creating the possibility of other Nobel Peace Laureates refusing to attend the summit in solidarity with the Dalai Lama. And in doing this you deny all of us an opportunity to learn from these inspiring global heroes of Peace – right here on home soil. No winners – many losers.

I fail to see how His Holiness Dalai Lama poses a threat to our nation. How can he be considered an undesirable visitor to our shores? He is a world icon who holds strong views about the right to freedom of his own people. Is this not what our people fought so fearlessly against for so many years? Are these views not in line with the South African struggle for freedom from oppression and the right for self-determination?

I’m sad, given our proud fight for freedom, to think that our political leaders are creating the global perception that South Africa has become a submissive nation, bending the knee to foreign powers with their own political agendas.

Struggle leaders, many of whom now sit in Parliament, along with you, Mr President, could not remain silent on the issue of human rights and freedom, decades ago: the freedom gained through the struggle out of apartheid into what has now become a free and democratic South Africa. Is this not what the Dalai Lama wants for his country?

I implore you to fast track the process of issuing a visa to His Holiness Dalai Lama and show South Africa and the world that as a country, and as a people, we still stand for the same ideals that you fought for 20 years ago.

You fought for a country where every person had a voice that could be heard. You fought for a country of freedom, equality, self-determination, and ultimately peace. We want to learn from the Dalai Lama – we have a right to hear his voice.

l Chaeli Mycroft is an internationally recognised ability activist in her 2nd year at the University of Cape Town (majoring in politics and social development). Although a wheelchair user she is an adventurer as well as an activist, having completed two Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tours with her cycling partner Grant Kruger, has won a silver medal at the Wheelchair Dancing World Cup with her partner Damian Michaels, has entered the Gun Run half-marathon and intends being the first female quadriplegic to summit Kilimanjaro in August next year.

Her passion as an ability activist is to grow a fully inclusive society where we celebrate the ability of each person.

She is the winner of the 2011 International Children’s Peace Prize (endorsed by the Nobel Peace Laureates as the children’s version of the Nobel Peace Prize), the 2012 Nobel Peace Laureates’ Medal for Social Activism and the 2013 World of Children Youth Award.

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