'I don't know' if Dalai Lama will get S.African visa: Zuma
South African President Jacob Zuma said Monday that he did not know if Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, would be granted a visa to enter the country.
"The Department of International Relations and Co-operation is dealing with it. I don't know what will be the final thing. I don't think that you can get a definite answer from me," Zuma told a gathering of business leaders.
Anti-apartheid luminary Desmond Tutu has invited the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, to give an inaugural peace lecture as part of celebrations for his 80th birthday on Friday.
The speech is meant to be on Saturday, but so far South Africa has given no indication of whether the visa will be issued and said it would not make its decision public.
Protesters held a candlelight vigil outside parliament in Cape Town demanding that a visa to be granted.
Former World Bank managing director and anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele said South Africa had to call its own foreign policy.
"We need as citizens of this country to say 'no, our constitution is too precious for us to allow it to be put at risk'," she said.
"They're just old men... so why would anybody really want to disturb a lovely party for a lovely set of old men and women."
Religuous leaders also addressed the vigil where placards urged "Let the Dalai Lama in now" and "Don't be scared of China! Let's welcome the Dalai Lama!"
"We are ashamed that this has been necessary," said Father John Oliver, Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum.
"The fact that we have had to go so far is a smear on our country's good name."
The Dalai Lama was denied a visa in 2009, with South Africa openly admitting that it feared angering Beijing, which regards him as a "splittist".
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe last week made a four-day visit to China, where he signed a series of trade deals but made no mention of the visa issue.
China resents any perceived outside interference for Tibet or official recognition for the Dalai Lama.
Sensitivities in Beijing are running high after two young Buddhist monks set themselves on fire last month, crying out "long live the Dalai Lama" as they burned. Both reportedly survived.
The Dalai Lama was welcomed to South Africa in 1996 by Nelson Mandela, and visited again in 1999 and 2004.
Tutu's Peace Centre has lambasted Pretoria's dithering, calling it "reminiscent of apartheid South Africa".
© 2011 AFP