FIGHTING ON: Sonam Tenzing, the Dalai Lamas official representative in South Africa.
FIGHTING ON: Sonam Tenzing, the Dalai Lamas official representative in South Africa.
THE WORK OF HER FATHER: Tu Nokwe holds up the booklets of the Dalai Lamas teachings.  	Pictures: Ufrieda Ho
THE WORK OF HER FATHER: Tu Nokwe holds up the booklets of the Dalai Lamas teachings. Pictures: Ufrieda Ho

UFRIEDA HO

THE 76th birthday of the Dalai Lama was celebrated in Pretoria with the release of Zulu and Tswana translations of three booklets containing the Tibetan spiritual leader’s teachings.

The Dalai Lama’s representative in the Office of Tibet in South Africa, Sonam Tenzing, said yesterday the long-awaited translations and printing of the booklets meant more South Africans could access Buddhist teachings as they were given by the Dalai Lama.

The booklets fulfil another wish of the office, to reach out to more South Africans. The office functions as the official agency of the Central Tibetan Administration in exile.

“We are only two Tibetans here in South Africa now, but we have the spirit of six million,” said Tenzin Kunsang, secretary of the office.

The Pretoria office is one of only 11 Offices of Tibet around the world and was set up in 1998 by the invitation of then-president Nelson Mandela to the Dalai Lama.

The birthday celebrations started off with a singing of the Tibetan national anthem and a minute’s silence.

It was remembrance for the thousands of Tibetans killed, tortured and brutalised in their fight for freedom and self-determination since the People’s Republic of China took occupation of Tibet in 1950.

“The reality is Tibetans do not enjoy the same freedoms people of the free world know.

“For example, there is no freedom of religion; monasteries are turned into museums under the oppression of the Chinese communist government,” said Tenzing.

Tenzing said improved relations between China and Africa should compel African leaders to coax China to return to face-to-face dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Talks have deadlocked since 2008.

Professor Garth Shelton of Wits University’s department of international relations said this lingering impasse affected South Africa’s diplomatic relations with Tibet.

This was clear in March 2009 when South Africa denied a visa for the Dalai Lama to attend a peace conference in Joburg ahead of the World Cup.

Shelton said: “China is particularly sensitive on the issue of Tibet.

“South Africa is held hostage in having to favour China because of China’s influence on Africa’s economic growth, even though there is a historical connection between Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.”

The Pretoria birthday celebrations were attended by political representatives of the DA and the IFP.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who could not attend, sent flowers.

But there was a marked absence of the ruling party or official government representation.

Even so, the small voices of two Tibetans in Africa will not be silenced.

Both Kunsang and Tenzing said they were encouraged by South African and global support for Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

At 76 he still keeps a tight global schedule, giving teachings and lectures on tolerance, human rights and world peace.

And as of last week the voice got a Tswana and Zulu boost.

Musician Tu Nokwe, the daughter of translator Alfred Nokwe who worked on the booklets, said: “My father died in 2008, literally two days before he finished the last pages of His Holiness’s books. He gave a gift to all of us.”

Nokwe added that her father’s contribution to make the teachings more widely accessible, even as official South African political favour shifted from Tibet, made her feel “fearless and more determined that umoya (the spirit) should be shared by all”.