STAFF WRITERS and Sapa
THE DALAI Lama has cancelled his planned visit to South Africa, saying he does not want to “create any inconveniences to anyone, individuals or governments”.
The Tibetan spiritual leader was invited to deliver a lecture in Cape Town at the end of this week in honour of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday, and to receive the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Peace and Reconciliation.
The South African government has come under fire for not yet having granted the Dalai Lama a visa – a move which critics have attributed to pressure from trading partner China.
In a statement issued today, a representative for the Dalai Lama said: “His Holiness was scheduled to visit South Africa from October 6 to October 14, 2011.
“Accordingly, the visa applications for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the entourage members were submitted to the South African High Commission in New Delhi at the end of August and original passports were submitted on September 20, over two weeks ago.”
The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre described the cancellation of the trip to South Africa as a “dark day”.
“He said he feels it is clearly inconvenient for the government,” the centre’s spokeswoman Nomfundo Wazala said. “This is the darkest day. Our officials felt it was not even important to respond to his application.”
At a candlelight vigil outside Parliament yesterday, the Congress of SA Trade Unions criticised the government for allowing China to “dictate” its foreign policy.
“Even though China is our biggest trading partner, we should not exchange our morality for dollars or yuan,” Cosatu’s Western Cape leader Tony Ehrenreich told the gathering. “It is inappropriate and discriminatory that the Dalai Lama should be denied access.
“Our democracy is founded on diversity, imperfect as it is.”
The Dalai Lama’s representative in India wrote: “His Holiness was to depart for South Africa on October 6 but visas have not been granted yet. We are, therefore, now convinced that for whatever reason or reasons, the South African government finds it inconvenient to issue (a) visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
“His Holiness travels around the world to promote human values, religious harmony, world peace and compassionate principles that form the core of his communications and interactions everywhere.
“And in doing so, His Holiness does not want to create any inconveniences to anyone, individuals or governments. His Holiness has thus decided to call off his upcoming visit to South Africa.
“And, he regrets the inconveniences caused to his hosts and the large number of South African public who were keenly waiting to receive him and hear his message.”
The Dalai Lama visited South Africa three times between 1996 and 2004, and met former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. In 2009, he was refused entry by President Jacob Zuma’s administration to attend a conference of Nobel laureates.
The government said the visit would detract from preparations for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
The decision drew criticism from abroad and at home, with then-Public Enterprises minister Barbara Hogan saying it showed that the government was “dismissive of human rights”. She was reprimanded and forced to apologise.
Tutu termed the latest decision “disgraceful” and Wits University vice-chancellor and principal Professor Loyiso Nongxa said it “ridicules the values enshrined in our constitution”.
“We as South Africans have a moral obligation to provide a platform for all voices to be heard, including the voice of the Dalai Lama.
“The university condemns the state for once again not granting a visa for this stalwart of peace to enter our country,” Nongxa said this morning.
“The state’s deliberate indecision ridicules the values pertaining to freedom of speech, expression and movement enshrined in our constitution, and the freedoms for which so many South African have lived, and indeed died. We view the exclusion of the Dalai Lama from our shores with grave misgivings. This betrayal of a key constitutional value provides a clear window into the fragility of the democracy we are trying to sustain.
“We add our voice to (those) of other leaders, calling on the South African government to apologise to the nation for this oversight.
“It is a betrayal of everything that we as South Africans fought against during the apartheid regime and a gross violation of the values we espouse as a nation.”
In July, China signalled its displeasure after US President Barack Obama received the Dalai Lama at the White House.
As part of Tutu’s birthday celebrations from October 6 to 8, he was expected to deliver a speech titled “Peace and compassion as a catalyst for change” to students.
Former World Bank head Mamphela Ramphele was among a group of about 100 protesters who gathered outside Parliament last night to urge the government to grant the Dalai Lama his visa.
Ramphele said that after all Tutu had done for South Africa, “to prevent a lovely party of old men is not fair”.