S.Africa would have granted Dalai Lama visa
Archbishop Desmond Tutu Wednesday accused South Africa of kowtowing to China in an explosive row over a visa for the Dalai Lama, accusing Pretoria of putting trade ties above democratic values.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe tried to tamp down the dispute, telling The Star newspaper that South Africa was ready to grant the Dalai Lama a visa when the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader decided to cancel the trip.
“Of course, he has been here before, I don’t see why it should be an issue at all,” Motlanthe said.
Tutu has bashed the government’s handling of the visa request, calling President Jacob Zuma’s administration “worse than the apartheid government”.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Tutu dismissed Motlanthe’s explanation and said the government was caving in to China.
“The deputy president says ‘no, this thing was in the pipeline’. In the pipeline? It’s not weeks before he should have left, it’s hours, and why have (they) kept it all so much in abeyance and making everybody uncertain? Why?” Tutu said.
“His explanation just leaves you even more upset instead of making things better. Because you see they could have told us or told the Dalai Lama a heck of a long time earlier ‘you are getting the visa or you are not getting the visa’.”
“Here we are kowtowing… it’s a despicable way,” Tutu said.
“It doesn’t do much to improve their relationship with China because China needs much of what we have, I mean minerals and so on and they would continue” to trade with South Africa, he said.
“It’s just unconscionable that we who suffered under an oppressive regime, should be doing the kind of things that really are done by oppressive governments.”
South Africa has repeatedly denied any influence by China over the visa, and said the Dalai Lama was late handing in his application.
“South Africa … is a sovereign country. We make decisions based on our domestic interest,” foreign affairs spokesman Clayson Monyela told Talk Radio 702.
“We are not bullied, we are not pressured, we are not influenced by anybody in making decisions.”
The Dalai Lama’s spokesman Tenzin Taklha said his office had begun the visa process in June, and that on Tuesday the South African embassy in India was not returning their calls.
“His Holiness was scheduled to leave today. It became impossible. He felt it was too much of an inconvenience. His Holiness’s policy is not to cause inconvenience to his hosts,” he said.
Tutu turns 80 on Friday and had invited his longtime friend and fellow Nobel Peace laureate the Dalai Lama to give an inaugural lecture at his Peace Centre.
As a luminary of the anti-apartheid movement, Tutu is widely regarded as the voice of the national conscience. His condemnation of the government riveted South African media, which largely echoed Tutu’s concerns.
The Cape Times said the state’s “disingenuous responses … serve as the flimsiest of fig leaves: the truth is that it chose not to offend China, which regards the Dalai Lama as an enemy.”
“This is beyond just disappointing: it suggests a lack of moral fibre and an ineptness in the foreign policy arena.”
The Times warned of “immeasurable” damage to South Africa’s reputation.
“How do we begin to negate the perception that our autonomy is being threatened by the relationships we want to foster with trading partners such as China?,” it asked.
“Even if the government denies being influenced by China, is there anyone out there who will believe it?”
About 500 people marched through the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where the Dalai Lama would have given a lecture next week, in protest at the visa debacle.
“The state’s deliberate indecision ridicules the values pertaining to freedom of speech, expression and movement enshrined in our constitution, and the freedoms for which so many South African have lived, and indeed died,” vice chancellor Loyiso Nongxa said.