The government acted unlawfully in delaying a decision on a visa application by the Dalai Lama, the Supreme Court of Appeal held.

Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor will study a ruling that the government acted unlawfully in delaying a decision on a visa application by the Dalai Lama, the department said on Thursday.

“The department has noted judgment handed down today by the Supreme Court of Appeal on the Dalai Lama matter,” said immigration director general Jackie McKay.

“In line with our Constitution, the department respects the ruling of the Supreme Court in this regard.”

McKay said Pandor and the department would study the judgment before comprehensively responding.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) concluded that former home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had unreasonably delayed the decision.

The appeal on the matter was brought by Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota.

SCA Judge Robert Nugent said counsel for the minister rightly accepted that she was required by law to dispose of an application for a visa with reasonable punctuality.

The unanimous judgment by a full Bench found that the evidence indicated the matter was deliberately delayed so as to avoid a decision.

Meanwhile, political parties welcomed the judgment on Thursday.

Buthelezi said the ruling vindicated the view that the South African government had broken the laws of the country by delaying the visa.

“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 of this country, the values of our Constitution and all that which is good, noble and decent in public affairs,” he said.

He was speaking from Ulundi, in KwaZulu-Natal, via telephone, to a media conference in Parliament. Buthelezi said he was delighted about the judgment.

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

He said the Constitution provided Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and any other citizen the right to freedom of association.

Freedom Front Plus spokesman Corne Mulder also welcomed the ruling and said the case showed an abuse of power by the government and had damaged the country's image internationally.

“This action attests of an abuse of power by the ANC 1/8African National Congress 3/8 government, which has lost its marbles,” Mulder said in a statement.

“This is a classic example where the ANC government, in its submission to China, had committed an administrative transgression. It is furthermore also important to take note that it was once again necessary to approach the courts to force the ANC government to do its work correctly.”

The Tibetan spiritual leader eventually cancelled his trip to South Africa to attend Tutu's 80th birthday on October 4, last year.

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