Cape Town. 121129. Desmod Tutu speaks about the visit from Dalai Lama from His foundation offices in Milnerton. Reporter Cobus Coetzee. Picture Courtney Africa

Cobus Coetzee and Sapa

ARCHBISHOP Emeritus Desmond Tutu is counting the days until he turns 90 so he can invite the Dalai Lama to his birthday party again.

An ecstatic Tutu, 81, praised the courts yesterday after the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein found the government acted unlawfully in delaying a decision on a visa application by the Dalai Lama.

Tutu invited the Tibetan spiritual leader to his birthday party in October last year but the government delayed the process, forcing the Dalai Lama to withdraw his application. “Yes I can’t wait,” he said when asked if he was the only person counting down the days to his 90th birthday, as he wants to invite the Dalai Lama to his party again.

“It shows we have a robust judiciary. I salute our court system and our judges,” Tutu told the Cape Times outside his foundation in Milnerton. The court found that former Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had unreasonably delayed the decision to grant or reject the Dalai Lama’s visa application.

At the time Tutu was outraged and accused the current government of being worse than the apartheid-era one.

Yesterday’s unanimous judgment was handed down by a full Bench and said evidence indicated the matter was deliberately delayed so as to avoid a decision. “It hardly needs saying that the minister is not entitled to deliberately procrastinate. Procrastination by itself establishes unreasonable delay,” the judgment read.

Tutu said “it was a great sadness that an eminent person should be treated like this”. Asked if the judgment was a terrible indictment on the government, he said he didn’t want to focus on the past.

“Why don’t we speak of the positive, especially in a time like now,” he said. Tutu said he couldn’t explain his friendship with the Dalai Lama.

“How can you explain a friendship. He is an extraordinary man and he thought he liked me and I liked him. It is like alchemy,” he said.

Tutu said he wouldn’t invite the Dalai Lama for his next birthday as he had already invited someone else, “but definately the year after that”.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said the ruling vindicated the view that the government broke the laws of the country in delaying a decision on a visa application.

He and Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota took the case to the appeals court after the Western Cape High Court dismissed with costs an application on whether it had been constitutional for the government not to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama.

The appeal was upheld with costs yesterday. “All this begs the question as to why the government, in twice preventing the entry of the Dalai Lama to South Africa, would do something so opposite to the will of the people,” Buthelezi said.

Lekota said he was “thrilled that, once again, the rule of law had been upheld”.

The constitution provided Tutu, and any other citizen, the right to freedom of association.

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