On that occasion, his visa was refused.
Now the Dalai Lama has been invited again, this time to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture on October 8. The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre started the process of applying for a visa for him in June, but it was not until the end of August that the government acknowledged receiving the application. The centre was hoping for a decision by Tuesday, but nothing has transpired.
The Dalai Lama has his critics, but it is clear that, whatever Deputy International Relations Minister Marius Fransman may say, the government’s squeamishness has nothing to do with him and everything to do with not wanting to annoy China, the new economic powerhouse and a potential source of growth for South Africa’s flagging economy.
It would be very sad if the Dalai Lama was once again banned from South Africa just because our government has allowed itself to be blackmailed by China.
In 2009, Jacob Zuma, then speaking as ANC president, pointed out that South Africa was not the first country to have refused the Dalai Lama entry. And he used the example of France to show that other countries also bow to the wishes of China on these matters: after a meeting between President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama in Poland, Zuma said, China had withdrawn from a summit with the European Union, and France had had to apologise.
But, he said, the real problem then was that the visit in March 2009 would have coincided with “a serious month” in the history of China and Dalai Lama – the anniversary of the time when, 50 years before, the Dalai Lama had fled into exile in India.
As he understood it, Zuma said, the South African government had not ruled out a visit on another occasion.
Well, Zuma is now in charge of the government, the Dalai Lama has been invited again, and this time the invitation is not for March but for October.
So what about it, Mr President?
Note: The article originally appeared as an editorial in Cape Times on September 22, 2011. The views expressed in the article by the author are personal.