Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Magoba joined 150 protestors in a candelight vigil outside Parliament last night. Photo: Mathew Jordaan.

Aziz Hartley and

Michelle Jones

CIVIL organisations and public figures held a candlelight vigil and protest outside Parliament last night to demand that the government allow the Dalai Lama to visit the country.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader has been invited to attend celebrations of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday this Friday. He has also been asked to give the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture in Cape Town and a lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The government has yet to grant him a visa and has said the decision will not be made public. Organisations such as the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and Ndifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know) have demanded an answer by today.

Academic Mamphela Ramphele told the vigil Tutu had played a huge role in the country’s fight for freedom and it was ironic that his right to associate with a friend was being denied. The government should not bow to pressure from China, she said.

Desmond Tutu Peace Centre spokeswoman Nomfundo Walaza said pressure would be put on the government to allow the Dalai Lama’s visit, while Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the country should put values before dollars and yuan.

“Although China is our biggest trading partner, we should not exchange our morality for dollars or yuan,” Ehrenreich said.

“It is inappropriate and discriminatory that the Dalai Lama should be denied access. Our democracy is founded on diversity, imperfect as it is.

“The government must not act against the will of the people, because then (it is) no longer acting on our behalf.”

By late yesterday, there were 1 145 signatures on a petition urging the government to allow the visit.

The peace centre and the Office of Tibet in Pretoria have slammed as “profoundly disrespectful” the government’s slow response to the Dalai Lama’s application.