Opposition parties in South Africa have ganged up to condemn the government’s decision not to issue a visa to Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama had been invited to a 2010 World Cup peace conference in Johannesburg this week by three South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
The event would discuss ways of using football to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Now the event is uncertain.
Reports say FW De Klerk is reconsidering attending. “Mr De Klerk has been in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the presidency to express his concern about the issue, but so far he has received no reaction,” his spokesperson Dave Steward.
Also Tutu would boycott the event if the government does not change its stance. But according to media reports, the government said it did not issue the visa because it did not want to remove the world’s attention from the 2010 Soccer World Cup preparations.
“The South African government does not have a problem with the Dalai Lama,” President Kgalema Motlanthe’s spokesman, Thabo Masebe is quoted saying. “But at this time the whole world will be focused on the country as hosts of the 2010 World Cup. We want the focus to remain on South Africa (…) A visit now by the Dalai Lama would move the focus from South Africa onto issues in Tibet.” he added.
Chinese government funding ANC
Opposition parties expressed shock and disappointment at the decision. Congress of the People leader Mvume Dandala said the South African government had rejected the visa because the Chinese government was one of the ANC’s funders.
“This matter has nothing to do with, what is in the best interest of the country, but the ANC kowtowing to a major funder that has poured extensive resources into its election campaign,” Dandala said.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille accused the government of hypocrisy. “We in the Independent Democrats believe that by giving in to China or any other country’s demands, the government is saying to the world that we do not afford other peoples the same rights we are afforded in our own Constitution,” read a statement from her office.
Speaking on behalf of the spiritual leader, spokesperson for the Dalai Lama said he was “very disappointed” by the decision. “It is true that South Africa, under intense pressure from the Chinese authorities, have denied a visa to the Dalai Lama,” spokesperson Thubten Samphel said.
“Since his holiness says he will not inconvenience any government, we at the Tibetan administration will not issue any strong response. But we are certainly very disappointed,” Samphel said.