Opinionista Mabine Seabe 5 October 2011

The Dalai Lama doesn’t pay the bills

South Africans have made a lot of noise regarding the Dalai Lama’s visa application being stalled and His Holiness subsequently cancelling his visit to sunny South Africa. We should also consider the investment implications, whether significant or not.

The news about the Dalai Lama’s decision to “cancel” his weekend of partying with his bosom buddy Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was not received well by the media and the chattering class on Twitter. The ANC-led government was called “morally bankrupt” by some and the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre described the cancellation as a “dark day” for South Africa. Yes, the cancellation was due to the South African government’s time wasting tactics –which is essentially amounts to the powers-that-be denying the Dalai Lama a visa. We should be outraged, but not completely.

If the South African government, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, granted His Holiness a visa to celebrate with fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Tutu, and China cancelled the billions of rands worth of investment that Deputy President Motlanthe recently finalised, would we have applauded our government for a display of moral courage? Truth be told, morality does not pay the bills. Of course it would be absurd for China to withdraw its investments from South Africa, the gateway to Africa. As nice and as gentle as the Dalai Lama is, why risk angering the Chinese, our biggest investors? The Chinese would have eventually calmed down, but we should keep them happy.

Whether in politics or in everyday life, those who write the cheques have the upper hand.  You may loathe your boss for whatever reason but at the end of the day, until you can find another job, you will do what your boss tells you to do when paying the bills are a consideration. Once the SA government can find another country to pump much-needed billions into the economy, we can grant the Dalai Lama a visa – ten if he wants. Money may not be everything but it sure does count for a lot.

The anger and in some cases the disgust shown by South Africans is warranted, but it should be for different reasons. The government should have been transparent about the process instead of spin doctoring at every possible juncture. The officials in Pretoria should come out and said that granting the Dalai Lama a visa posed an economic risk, even if there was a 1% chance that China would withdraw their billions from the South African economy.

Whether our politicians made the right decision will be decided by history. If the economy was put ahead of the Arch’s birthday wish, then the right decision was made, as callous as that may sound.

Tutu should also “cancel” President Jacob Zuma’s invitation to his 80th birthday party. Despite Tutu’s guest of honour being denied a visa, I hope that one of South Africa’s most respected fathers has a great birthday and many many more. DM



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