Once again, a diplomatic storm has broken out over a visa application for the Dalai Lama’s planned visit to South Africa. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu did not mince his words when he dressed down the government for its handling of the matter. But Tutu’s harsh words and the Dalai Lama calling off the trip will be the stuff spin dreams are made of for an ANC-led government that seems to have escaped from being painted into a tight diplomatic corner. By OSIAME MOLEFE.
“Our government is worse than the apartheid government, because at least you were expecting it with the apartheid government," Nobel Peace Prize-winner Tutu said at the Cape Town press conference on the government’s failure to grant the Dalai Lama a visa.
“Hey, Mr Zuma, you and your government do not represent me. You represent your own interests. Watch out, ANC government. Watch out. I am warning you like I warned the Nationalists. One day we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government,” Tutu added, almost menacingly.
He suggested that by dilly-dallying in processing the Dalai Lama’s visa application, the ANC government had behaved in a manner at odds with the principles the party had once fought for.
Others, including tripartite alliance partner Cosatu, businesswoman and academic Mamphela Ramphele and civil society organisations, also criticised the manner in which the visa application was handled.
Democratic Alliance deputy spokesman on international relations and cooperation, Stevens Mokgalapa, said in a statement earlier on Tuesday, “A visa delayed is a visa denied.” Mokgalapa said he would be submitting parliamentary questions to international relations and cooperation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane demanding a full explanation on why it took so long to make a decision.
“The inescapable conclusion is that the South African government has predictably strung the Dalai Lama along to make it impossible for him to plan his trip. That way it could avoid making a decision that would either upset the Chinese or upset millions of peace-loving South Africans and citizens around the globe,” Mokgalapa said.
Tutu’s overstatement – that the current government is worse than the Nats and is comparable to the regimes of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – has prompted the ANC to tell him and others outraged by the matter to “calm down”.
Spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement, “The ANC calls upon all South Africans to stay calm, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and afford the government of South Africa the opportunity to take us all into its confidence around the Dalai Lama visa application and its subsequent withdrawal.”
Mthembu defended the ANC’s human rights record and its commitment to democratic principles. He said the Archbishop should rather be praying for divine assistance for the ANC-led government to deliver a better life for all South Africans.
Clayson Monyela, international relations and cooperation spokesman, maintained that up until the time when the Dalai Lama cancelled his trip, the visa was still being processed. Monyela’s department was handling the matter as it was too hot to handle for Home Affairs, which normally deals with visa processing.
Monyela said that as per the Dalai Lama’s own statement, original passports were submitted to the South African High Commission in New Delhi on 20 September, which was insufficient time to allow the visa to be processed. He denied that there were timeframes on visa processing; however, many of the websites for South African missions abroad say that it takes three to five business days to process visitor’s visas – well within the nine business days (if counting from when the passports were submitted) that had elapsed before the Dalai Lama called off the trip.
Monyela suggested that the Dalai Lama’s cancellation of the trip was a de facto withdrawal of the application, as he “now no longer requires a visa”.
Thus, the South African government is officially off the hook. While there is a public relations mess to clean up, the ANC-led administration can, with a lesser fear of blatant contradiction than there would have been had it been forced to make a decision on the visa, continue to maintain that Beijing does not influence its policies, domestic or abroad.
But despite the denials, this latest development indicates strongly that China’s influence – thanks to the over $14 billion (and growing) in total trade with South Africa each year – is so significant that its will is acted out without having to be said expressly. Rather sad. DM
- Aung San Suu Kyi to SA: "Please use your liberty to promote ours", in Daily Maverick;
- Chinese pressure pays off as Dalai Lama cancels SA trip, in Daily Maverick;
- China-South Africa: ever closer ties, in Financial Times.