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S.African court challenge over Dalai Lama visa drama

Two South African opposition parties on Monday lodged a court challenge against the government’s handling of a failed visa bid by the Dalai Lama to attend Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Congress of the People (Cope) filed papers in the Cape High Court to “challenge the legality and constitutionality of government’s conduct which led to the effective denial of an entry visa”.

“There must be redress. Injustice of this type cannot be allowed to stand and must be reversed through the courts,” the parties said in a joint statement.

The Dalai Lama called off his trip days ahead of Tutu’s birthday earlier this month, saying he had received no news about his visa, two years after South Africa denied him a visa over fears of jeopardising ties with China.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader was meant to deliver an inaugural peace lecture in Cape Town to wrap up a three-day birthday celebration for Tutu who is a fellow Nobel Peace Price laureate and close friend.

The government’s refusal to announce if it would grant or deny a visa dominated local headlines and sparked a fiery attack by Tutu that Pretoria was kowtowing to please China which is a key trade partner.

China regards the Dalai Lama as a “splittist” and frowns on his overseas travel.

“In the end, government refused to make a decision in fear of having the courage of its own convictions. If the Government wanted to deny a visa and declare the Dalai Lama undesirable, it has the statutory authority to do so,” said the two parties.

“However, under the rule of law and in a democratic and civilized country, the government does not have the liberty of circumventing the law by just not deciding.”

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi has invited the Dalai Lama to attend a prayer breakfast next March, the statement added.

In polls two years ago, the two parties won a combined total of just under 12 percent of the 400 seats in the National Assembly which is dominated by the ruling African National Congress who won just under 66 percent.

The court hearing is scheduled for November 22.