Peter Fabricius and Deon de Lange

THE publicity generated by the government’s refusal to give the Dalai Lama a visa to meet Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will probably amplify the reach of his message when the two Nobel peace laureates engage each other electronically tomorrow.

“Ironically, the Dalai Lama’s message of peace and compassion might reach more people than if he had been allowed to come here,” said Dumisa Ntsebeza, chairman of the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust, which is organising the event.

He said his last-ditch effort to get the Dalai Lama to South Africa by appealing to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe had failed as Motlanthe’s office had not responded officially to his appeal by late yesterday. He had written to Motlanthe on Wednesday asking him to intervene to give the Dalai Lama a visa, after Motlanthe had said the government would have given him one if he had not cancelled his visit on Tuesday.

Ntsebeza said last night that it was now too late anyway, so the Dalai Lama would miss Tutu’s 80th birthday party today.

But he said the organisers were going ahead with an electronic interaction between the Dalai Lama and Tutu from the University of the Western Cape, where the Dalai Lama was to have delivered the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture tomorrow.

He said the organisers were still finalising arrangements for a video link-up between Tutu in Cape Town and the Dalai Lama in his home in Dharamsala, India. The options under discussion were a live SABC broadcast, which would also be offered to international TV networks, plus live streaming on YouTube and other media.

“So millions of people should see and hear the spiritual leader’s message of peace and compassion,” Ntsebeza said.

Meanwhile, the buck-passing in the government over the failed visa application continued yesterday as Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma denied that the issuing of the visa had ever been the responsibility of her department.

Thabo Masebe, spokesman for the deputy president, had earlier said Motlanthe would pass on the letter from Ntsebeza to the minister of home affairs as “the deputy president does not issue visas”.

Dlamini-Zuma also denied yesterday that her department had referred the Dalai Lama visa to the Department of International Relations and Co-Operation (Dirco). She said it had always been a Dirco matter.

Yet on Sunday, Dirco spokesman Clayson Monyela told The Star the Dalai Lama’s visa application was being “processed according to normal visa application procedures”.

When it was put to him that it was not “normal” for the international relations department to process what was said to be a regular tourist visa application, he said it was being done this way because the application had been referred to Dirco by Home Affairs.

When he was pressed for details, Monyela said “perhaps I should take out ‘normal’ from my comments”.

“We really don’t want to talk about the details of this thing,” he added at the time.

Monyela also noted that a previous visa application by the Dalai Lama, in 2009, had been dealt with in a similar fashion.

However, briefing journalists in Cape Town yesterday about an unrelated matter, Dlamini-Zuma responded to a question about the visa application by saying that “as far as the visa for the Dalai Lama is concerned, it was not a Home Affairs issue”.

Meanwhile, Cosatu condemned the “government’s clumsiness” in handling the visa application. It likened the use of bureaucratic red tape to block the Dalai Lama’s visit to tactics used by the US to deny entry to political activists.