The ANC’s parliamentary caucus has jumped to the defence of government for having failed to issue the Dalai Lama a visa, but the ruling party isn’t the only one who thinks that running to court, like the IFP and Cope did, is not quite the right thing to do. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
The office of the chief whip of the ANC, Mathole Motshekga, himself a religious man, pulled no punches on the legal action initiated by Cope and the IFP on the non-visit of the Dalai Lama. Their decision to apply for a judicial review of the government’s handling of his recent visa application “is nothing short of astonishing silliness and political shallowness”, Motshekga said. “It is a bizarre publicity tactic that is reflective of political parties whose role in our public space is becoming increasingly insignificant and are therefore desperate to get noticed.” He argues that they are represented in Parliament and could have pursued the issue through the legislature, and by holding government departments accountable.
IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who worked for IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi as special adviser during his reign as home affairs minister (1994 to 2004), said it was necessary to go to court because Parliament has no teeth in holding the executive to account. He said in his experience, Home Affairs could issue a visa within 20 minutes if a VIP was involved.
The DA seems to agree with the ANC on the route taken by the two parties it shares the opposition benches with, although they are more sympathetic about the motives of the court action. DA deputy spokesman on home affairs Masizole Mnqasela, told iMaverick that the DA did not believe the court action should have been taken as a first step. “You can’t go to court without having pursued (political) processes. As MPs we enjoy privileges which include writing letters and interacting with ministers. The minister (of home affairs) is due to respond to that letter, and we just need to know what are the reasons listed in the letter before we jump to the next step. For us court would be the last resort, although we do respect the decision the parties have taken and we wish them well,” he said.
Some within Cope also had their doubts over whether it was wise to run to a judge, but ultimately the IFP convinced the party’s leader, Mosiuoa Lekota. It was supposed to have been a broader opposition initiative, but the other opposition parties didn’t buy into it. So much for the opposition speaking with one voice. (Cope, incidentally, does not have to fork out more money for a court challenge as the lawyers are acting pro bono. Its funds have already been drained by the leadership battle between Lekota and ousted leader, Mbhazima Shilowa.)
The Dalai Lama drama is set to be revived again after Buthelezi said the Tibetan spiritual leader had accepted his invitation to visit him next year on Human Rights Day, 21 March. In his invitation, Buthelezi wrote to the Dalai Lama: “Twice I have planned and hoped to meet you to pray together, receive your spiritual guidance, and discuss the state of the world and its politics.”
Although the Dalai Lama had visited South Africa three times before, the ANC government in the past two years had twice failed to give him a visa to visit, mainly because of improved trade relations with China, which regards the Dalai Lama as a terrorist. A bunch of ANC leaders, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, had recently paid visits to Chinain their capacity as ANC leaders.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu had lashed out at the ANC government, calling the debacle a “disgrace” and saying people should pray for the downfall of the government.
Buthelezi and Lekota launched an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court on Monday, arguing that home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma acted unlawfully by passing the visa application on to International Relations and Cooperation, which had no power to determine the granting of a visa.
The court application will be heard on 22 November, and if successful, could pave the way for a visit by the Dalai Lama next year. DM
Photo: Cope and the IFP have taken legal action against the government’s decision not to award the Dalai Lama a visa. Reuters.
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