S. Africa embarrassed as peace conference is postponed

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Nobel Prize laureates, South Africa and China have been caught in a solidarity triangle that has seen economic ties outweigh humanitarian support leading to a postponement in a peace conference in South Africa. The tug of war to have a Dalai Lama visa refusal overturned could embarrass Former President, Nelson Mandela, who is caught between the government and the laureates, and force him to take sides.

The Dalai Lama was due to attend the now postponed Peace Conference in Johannesburg later this week but was denied a visa by South Africa as a result of alleged economic pressure from China.

With 2008 trade between China and South Africa standing at $10bn, China had warned South Africa that allowing the Dalai Lama into the country would harm their bilateral relations making South Africa take a decision that will not compromise their economic affair with China.

The Peace Conference which is set up to discuss football’s role in fighting racism and xenophobia was to be attended by Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu and FW de Klerk. But In protest of the Dalai Lama’s rejection, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mr de Klerk warned that they will pull out of the meeting if the decision not to grant a visa to the Tibetian spiritual leader was not overturned.

While Mr Mandela’s position is not clear, his foundation has announced that it had not been intended that Mandela would attend the conference. According to analysts, this provides Nelson Mandela with a safety net to decline the invitation should it become too controversial.

Stephane Ballong, assistant editor at Afrik-news.com, believes that “considering the fact that Nelson Mandela, an ANC member, caught between the laureates and the government, could be seriously embarrassed by this situation, the authorities had very little choice but to postpone this conference to make room for further negotiations to tackle this issue”.

The visa denial of the Dalai Lama has also drawn criticism of the South African government from the country’s opposition groups. Patricia de Lille, leader of the Independent Democrats accused the government of hypocrisy, and says the episode shows that there is no consistency in the country’s foreign policy. And Tony Leon, spokesperson of the Democratic Alliance said the decision flies in the face of all logic.

The Dalai Lama has been accused by the Chinese government of pushing for Tibetan independence, and has stirred up unrest in the region. But Tibetans claim to seek independence and human rights protection from China. South Africa who has been in a similar situation during apartheid is expected by Geir Lundestad, Nobel Institute Director, to show solidarity with the people of Tibet. “It is disappointing that South Africa, which has received so much solidarity from the world, doesn’t want to give that solidarity to others,” said Mr. Lundestad.

In South Africa’s defense, “The South African government does not have a problem with the Dalai Lama. 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,” said a spokesperson of the South African government.

According to analysts the South African government’s official reason for not granting the Dalai Lama would give room for a second and bigger controversy if the Dalai Lama is not allowed into the country.

“We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure, I feel deeply distressed and ashamed,” said Archbishop Tutu.

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