S.Africa's Tutu turns 80 amid Dalai Lama drama

2nd October 2011, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's moral beacon Desmond Tutu turns 80 on Friday with celebrations overshadowed by his government's dithering on whether to allow his close friend the Dalai Lama to visit.

Three days of birthday events are planned for the retired archbishop who is once again a prickly thorn for authorities, after decades of fighting apartheid's racist rulers, by raising the spotlight on its fawning to China.

"It has brought an unnecessary adverse attention to what should be a moment for celebration," said Dumisa Ntsebeza, chairman of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre.

"Nothing short of the presence of the Dalai Lama to give his own message in South Africa on Tutu's birthday is acceptable... It's so unfortunate."

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is invited to give the inaugural Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture on October 8 to wrap up the events to honour one of South Africa's best-loved personalities.

South Africa says the visa is under consideration. Two years ago, the Dalai Lama was denied a visa, with Pretoria openly admitting that it feared angering China, now the country's biggest trade partner.

"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," Tutu told South Africa's Mail&Guardian newspaper.

The celebrations will begin on Thursday with the launch of a glossy biography "Tutu: The Authorised Portrait", co-authored by his youngest daughter Mpho which outlines his life story with pictures and tributes from world dignitaries.

The guestlist for the week is being kept under wraps but Tutu, known affectionately worldwide simply as the "Arch", counts among his friends and fans everyone from US President Barack Obama to rock band U2 frontman Bono.

A public church service follows on his October 7 birthday at St Georges cathedral, where Tutu rallied for all-race democracy as Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, followed by a private picnic.

But the celebrations have been soured by the drama over the government's dragging of its heels on announcing if it will allow in the Dalai Lama, who like Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

"This is one of our sons who is celebrating his 80th birthday and near the end of his life and... his wish is only to have a friend of his who in our view has done nothing to hurt South Africa," Ntsebeza told AFP.

The uncertainty has also clouded planning for the event, but if the visa is denied organisers are considering allowing the Dalai Lama to speak via live video link, if he agrees.

Tutu felt the monk was an apt choice to speak on the push on the Arab Spring and "addressing the power and the usefulness of peaceful measures of bringing about change", he said.

After initially expressing hope that Pretoria would allow his entry, Tutu and his office moved to voice frustration and disappointment over the delays.

The Dalai Lama was welcomed by Tutu's comrade and first democratic leader Nelson Mandela in 1996, and his office says it is now time for Pretoria to tell China that another denial would be allowing internal interference.

"We just cannot be seen to be bending at the knees when it is time for us to stand straight up and say to the Chinese 'thank you very much, we are aware of your concerns but this time we are going to issue this visa," said Ntsebeza.

© 2011 AFP

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