Birthday gift is 'no Dalai Lama', says disappointed Tutu

30th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pressure mounted Friday on South Africa to grant Tibet's spiritual leader an entry visa as a disappointed Desmond Tutu said he expects his 80th birthday gift will be "no Dalai Lama".

The retired archbishop had invited his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate and close friend to give an inaugural peace lecture on October 8, as part of events to celebrate his birthday.

But he said he believed South Africa, which barred the Dalai Lama two years ago over fears of angering trade partner China, was holding off on a similar announcement to avoid negative criticism.

"I think my birthday gift is going to be: no Dalai Lama," Tutu told the weekly Mail&Guardian.

"It's unlikely that they'll give him a visa. If they were going to, they would have done so already. I think they're going to hold on so there's little time for people to get nasty against the government. It's sad."

Civil rights groups, including Tutu's Peace Centre, on Friday launched a campaign urging the government to allow the Dalai Lama's visit and will hold a night vigil on Monday.

"We are embarrassed by the decision and conduct of the South African government -- which is reminiscent of apartheid South Africa," they said in a petition to be submitted to President Jacob Zuma.

Pretoria has refused yet to make an announcement on the visa, and the issue was not mentioned in a statement Friday after Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe wrapped up a "successful" trip to China.

"We're still hoping against hope that he'll be here," Tutu told the newspaper.

"He draws so many people and, I can tell you, I'm not jealous," he quipped with his trademark sense of humour and laugh.

After his non-violent campaign against apartheid's white-minority leaders, Tutu is seen as the country's moral compass and has remained a frequent critic of the government in democracy.

"I am not their blue-eyed boy," he said when asked if he could use his influence to win over authorities.

Events to mark his birthday start on Monday with the launch of a new biography. Tutu will hold a public church service on Friday, his actual birthday. The Dalai Lama lecture had been due to wrap up events.

Human Rights Watch urged South Africa to grant the visa, saying that its reluctance seemed to be based on nothing other than fear of upsetting China.

"For the government to block a leader who supported South Africa's struggles is not only to deny its own history, but it raises questions about whether the government looks to Pretoria, or to Beijing, for some of its domestic policy decisions," said Daniel Bekele, HRW Africa director.

"There are few better ways to honor Archbishop Tutu, and that for which he and South Africa stand, than by acting on principle rather than perceived political expediency," said Bekele.

Foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela on Friday described Tutu as someone "we respect profoundly" but said reactions to a decision that had not been made were "slightly problematic".

"There is no decision as yet from where we are sitting," he told independent television news eNews.

The offices of both Tutu and the Dalai Lama have slammed the state's response as "profoundly disrespectful."

Motlanthe ended his Chinese trip with a meeting with President Hu Jintao, after sealing trade and investment deals during his four-day visit.

© 2011 AFP

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