Facing global scrutiny, South Africa still mulls Dalai Lama’s visa

By Khadija Patel 28 September 2011

Amid intense international scrutiny, South Africa has still not issued a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) claims that the visa application itself was delayed by a failure on the part of representatives of the Dalai Lama to submit the necessary paperwork to the South African High Commission in New Delhi.  All outstanding documents have since been submitted, according to Dirco and the application is being considered in a “routine visa application processes". Dirco can’t however confirm if the visa will be granted, or indeed, denied in time for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s birthday bash on 8 October. By KHADIJA PATEL.

It remains unclear when exactly the country’s gatekeepers will announce the fate of the Dalai Lama’s visa application.  Speaking to iMaverick on Tuesday, Dirco spokesman Clayson Monyela stressed that the visa applicant, and not the media, will be notified about the success or failure of the application at some point in the next few days. Dirco claims that the visa application is subject to “due processes” but Al-Jazeera reported on Tuesday that a visa application at the South African High Commission in New Delhi, where the application was launched, usually takes five days. The delay has captured the attention of the world’s media and invited scrutiny of the South African government’s relationship with China.

The last time a brouhaha erupted over a purportedly failed visa application by the Tibetan spiritual leader, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi submitted an application at the Western Cape High Court to force the Home Affairs minister of the time, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula, the Home Affairs director-general Mavuso Msimang and President Kgalema Motlanthe, to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to enter South Africa. “On the basis of my experience and expertise as the longest serving minister of home affairs of the democratic South Africa, I can attest that the barring of the entry of a high-profile international political and spiritual leader, such as the Dalai Lama, is an exclusively political decision, as there are no grounds in law to bar him from entry,” Buthelezi said.

In response to Buthelezi however, on behalf of Home Affairs, Msimang said Buthelezi’s application was “replete with uncorroborated hearsay evidence”. In an affidavit Msimang said that the Dalai Lama had never actually applied for a visa to attend the peace conference in 2009. “It is denied that a visa application was submitted to the Department of Home Affairs for the issuing of a visa to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama,” the affidavit said. Msimang’s claim was corroborated by Themba Mgabe, a Home Affairs official based at the South African High Commission in India, who also said in an affidavit that he had met a representative of the Dalai Lama, but that the leader had decided to put a hold on applying for a visa pending talks over the postponement of the conference.

The Dalai Lama, however, confirmed to international media at the time that South Africa had denied a visa to the Tibetan monk. “”It is true that South Africa, under intense pressure from the Chinese authorities, have denied a visa to the Dalai Lama,” spokesman Thubten Samphel said in 2009.  Regardless of the official South African version of events, the records continue to show that South Africa caved under pressure from China in 2009 and denied the Dalai Lama a visa.

Two years later, Dirco revokes claims that South Africa had denied a visa to the Dalai Lama in 2009 and shrugs off rampant suspicion of Chinese meddling in the visa application. Crucially however, the banalities of visa applications are more commonly the realm of the Department of Home Affairs. It is, after all, Home Affairs that will ultimately grant, or deny the visa. Yet it has fallen to Dirco to answer questions about the visa application. 

Spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs, Ronnie Mamoepa told iMaverick that due to the “magnitude” of the situation pending on the application, the matter has been referred to Dirco to handle. Mamoepa said the visa application had “political and diplomatic implications” and was therefore a Dirco matter. So while the South African government may claim that it is business as usual with the Dalai Lama’s visa application, the implications of the application are clearly understood. As we said some days ago, South Africa’s integrity test beckons. DM

Read mores:

  • Dalai Lama made to wait for S Africa visa in Al Jazeera;
  • Dismay at Dalai Lama visa delay in IOL News;
  • South Africa in hot seat over Dalai Lama visa in The Africa Report;
  • South Africa May Block Dalai Lama Visit in Time;
  • Dalai Lama visit blocked by South Africa to please China, says opposition in The Guardian (UK).



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