Tutu's last-ditch visa appeal for Dalai Lama rejected

6th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Desmond Tutu's last-ditch appeal to South Africa to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama on the eve of his 80th birthday was rejected Thursday, marring the start of the celebrations.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader on Tuesday cancelled a planned trip to South Africa because of delays with his visa, provoking a furious response from Tutu who blasted President Jacob Zuma's government as worse than apartheid and accused him of kowtowing to China.

British billionaire Richard Branson joined the chorus of condemnation in a blog post, saying he had written to Zuma urging him to allow the Dalai Lama's visit.

"How very sad therefore to see South Africa bowing to pressure from China to stop the Dalai Lama visiting South Africa to celebrate Archbishop Desmond Tutus birthday this Friday, where together they were going to discuss peace and reconciliation," he said.

Zuma has refused to take a stand on the visa, saying Monday that "I don't think that you can get a definite answer from me."

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told local media on Wednesday that he had no problem with the Dalai Lama's visit, making him the only government official to indicate that he should be allowed to come.

Tutu's Peace Centre then urged Motlanthe to intervene to grant the visa, but his spokesman Thabo Masebe told AFP that "the deputy president does not become involved in visa applications."

"The deputy president did not have a problem with the Dalai Lama," Masebe said. "This does not suggest he would be in a position to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama."

The Dalai Lama had visited South Africa three times before and was welcomed by former president Nelson Mandela. But South Africa denied him a visa in 2009, openly admitting it feared alienating key trade partner China.

He had been invited to give an inaugural lecture at Tutu's Peace Centre on Saturday, wrapping up three days of events around the archbishop's birthday.

The celebrations began Thursday inside St. George's Cathedral, where Tutu rallied for all-race democracy as Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, with a launch of his new biography, "Tutu: The Authorised Portrait", co-authored by his youngest daughter Mpho and journalist Allister Sparks.

The glossy book outlines his life story with pictures and tributes from world dignitaries.

"It has been a great privilege to work on this book," Mpho Tutu told the 300 people gathered in the church pews.

"For me the greatest blessing of it has been hearing the stories about my father that I otherwise would never have heard."

The audience include luminaries of the liberation struggle such as Ahmed Kathrada and Alan Boesak, and others such as U2 frontman Bono, who sat with Tutu's family on the front pew.

"More than ever in these chaotic times, we need the strength, the wisdom and indeed the serenity of Desmond Tutu," said Bono, who also joked that: "I'm obviously not radical enough to be denied a visa."

Bono then launched into "I still haven't found what I'm looking for", accompanied by an African choir.

Tutu's actual birthday is Friday, which he will celebrate with a public church service at St. George's, followed by a private picnic.

© 2011 AFP

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