Birthday gift is ‘no Dalai Lama’, says disappointed Tutu
Pressure mounted Friday on a reluctant South Africa to grant Tibet's spiritual leader a 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 a three-day programme to celebrate his birthday.
But he said he believed South Africa, which barred his entry two years ago over fears of angering trade partner China, was holding off an 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 immediately grant the Dalai Lama permission to travel to South Africa 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 state in a petition to be submitted to President Jacob Zuma.
Pretoria has refused to say if it will allow the Dalai Lama after its 2009 ban caused an outcry. The issue was not mentioned in a statement Friday after Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe wrapped up his 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 then quipped.
After campaigning against white-minority rule, Tutu is seen as the country’s moral compass and has remained a frequent critic of the democratic government.
“I am not their blue-eyed boy,” he said when asked if he could use his influence to win over authorities.
His birthday celebrations start Thursday with the launch of a new biography, followed by a public church service the next day. The Dalai Lama is slated to give a lecture at the Peace Centre on Friday to wrap up events.
Human Rights Watch urged South Africa to grant the visa.
“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.
The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, which has also invited the Dalai Lama to speak later in October, added to the pressure.
“We should welcome the opportunity and allow all voices to be heard in our democracy — a right for which we fought with our lives,” said university principal Loyiso Nongxa.
Foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela on Friday described Tutu as someone “we respect profoundly” but told independent television eNews that “there is no decision as yet”.
Motlanthe ended his Chinese trip with talks with President Hu Jintao, after sealing trade and investment deals during his four-day visit.