Dear Dalai Lama, let’s talk frankly...
- Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
- 03 Oct 2014 (South Africa)
I can’t claim to know much about the struggles of the people of Tibet. I am told that that they are going through things worse than what we went through here in South Africa during our horror of horrors: Apartheid. I am told they are fed up with being treated like sub-humans and so decided to take a stance – making you the face of such struggles.
You remind a lot of people – other than Home Affairs officials – of Nelson Mandela. He also led his people through a similar struggle on these shores and was locked up and the key thrown away. I am told they had to cut a new key after 27 years when it became apparent that you cannot place a lid over a boiling pot forever.
As I was saying, I am not really an expert on the struggles of your people. But I can share plenty about what we went through here. Oliver Reginald Tambo – I am sure you have met him – went around the globe talking to the world about our struggles. One seminal intervention he made was when he got to address the United Nations. He said at the time the struggle of our country was our struggle. He called on the world to isolate South Africa for the atrocities they were committing against his people. So said he:
“Mr. Chairman, His Excellency the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, when addressing the Paris Conference on Sanctions against South Africa, made the following statement:
‘We can no longer afford to ignore the legitimate demands of the blacks in South Africa and Namibia for their freedom. We owe it as a duty both to them and to ourselves to bring this pernicious system of Apartheid to an ignominious end by acting collectively to impose mandatory and comprehensive sanctions against Apartheid South Africa. Mankind must once and for all dramatically and decisively repudiate this racist doctrine, which seeks to undermine human civilisation itself. We neglect to do so only at our eternal peril.’"
It is clear that things as evil as Apartheid became the business of the world. I am certain whatever suffering your people are going through has over the years become the business of the world. This, I believe, is the very reason you are among the worthy recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. You made your suffering the business of the world and the world listened.
But, Your Holiness, let’s talk frankly...times have since moved on. South Africa has been free from the shackles of Apartheid for a very long twenty years and the memories of what the world did for us do tend to fade. We may not exactly remember when we were the skunk of the world; the words of Nelson Mandela when he said this place will never experience the oppression of one by another. I know these were words directed at us, but they could easily have been directed at your people, Your Holiness.
But please forgive us; we have achieved our own freedom and had our share of our leaders calling themselves with pseudonyms to gain access to various countries that would otherwise not give them a right of passage. Many of our leaders were denied visas to enter many countries. Yet there is also something quite interesting here. There were many countries that gave us refuge, including permanent visas, and in some instances even pseudo-citizenship, just to show a middle finger to the Apartheid system. This visa thing was very powerful. It allowed some of those who are now in government to get their children to go to the best schools around the world. Not all of them took advantage of such freebies, of course, as we have seen so many faking their qualifications to get by. But let me not digress into domestics.
I was still saying: a number of those in our Cabinet today actually spent some time in exile. Theoretically they should be feeling your pain as someone who has been suffering exile for many moons. But look, the human memory can fail.
You do know that, as the Bible says, those who say they are not sinners have no truth whatsoever in them, and will run short of the glory of God. It is that kind of situation here. There are some who may not have the ability to remember even how and why they ran away from combat. It’s that bad. So you can imagine if you asked them to remember what it used to mean to be denied a visa – you will be truly be on a hiding to nothing.
Your Holiness, the world has since moved on. We are now part of a progressive and revolutionary club called BRICS. The benefits are already showing. Our government has just signed a massive agreement to ensure that the lights are kept on via nuclear with Russia. I know, I know, they have problems of their own there in Russia. But our Number One spent some quality time there with the Russian Number One, totally unrelated to the deal – so we are told. Apparently this deal may well eclipse the Arms Deal when it comes to the level of bribery that may be unleashed on us, but these are mere rumours from malicious gossips of enemies of the state. I must, however, tell you: it does pay to be part of this club, Your Holiness. Recently it scored our elites several seats at the Presidential Suite at the World Cup in 2014 – it’s not every day, you know. And this is the nub of the issue.
Your entry into our country may cause us some glitches with our friends in the club, especially your nemesis, China. Please understand that this visa debacle is nothing personal. China has already bought into one of our flagship banks here, called Standard Bank. Our BEE laws have also recently been amended to include Chinese as Blacks. And China also built the African Union Head office - so in a sense, China is the new Africa, so to speak. We are VVIPs of this club, with China supporting us all the way to sit at the table. You need to please understand that we are still new in this BRICS club, so we can’t afford to be dressed with the borrowed robes of principle and start questioning our newfound friends about trivialities such as human rights, etc. I mean, even the Bible tells us no one is perfect. Who are we to judge?
But I have some good news. We will one day grow a sort of International Backbone; the kind that used to exist when Mandela was still alive. The guy used to tell America to shove it where the sun does not shine when they tried to pick on his friends. I am telling you, he invited Fiedel Castro to attend his inauguration when the guy was a persona non grata in the USA. And so many examples can be shared, including the ridiculous war on Iraq that Bush tried to launch by global round robin. Mandela told him to go and jump in the Indian Ocean.
Speaking of India: they apparently, despite their membership of this club, have you on a list of very special people who don’t even need a visa to enter India, and who aren’t subjected to any security check. Now that’s the sort of backbone that South Africa is still busy growing. You have to pray for it to grow fast enough for you to still be able to visit in your lifetime.
For now, frankly, you are not welcome.
I remember the last time you tried to come here for Tutu’s birthday. Look, using Tutu as a reference to enter this country was not a good idea. The guy threatened to pray for the downfall of this government. A man of God praying for the downfall – this is stuff of the Old Testament, man – you will recall the story of the praying of the falling of the walls of Jericho. In the Old Testament you did not need to lift a finger; you just prayed and the evil regimes came tumbling down!
Well, we are in the post-New Testament phase, and to bring down the Apartheid regime, people took up arms – blood was shed and those who perished fighting for freedom obviously had no idea that when this country was free, some freedom-loving people would be denied entry because they were busy fighting for the freedom of their own people against our newfound friends. They otherwise maybe would have chosen not to die for this freedom.
I hear you withdrew your applications - eish le wena man! Now we don’t know what is fact and what is fiction about whether you would actually get the visa if you just awaited your ‘regrets’ letter. But I have a better suggestion. Next time just apply under a pseudonym and then host a rally at the FNB stadium – I promise you that the MKVA will not disrupt your rally. I have it on good authority that they are not involved in this whole anti-visa fiasco. They, after all, specialised in skipping the country and so on. What you would have done to skip into our porous borders would be something they can relate to and in fact praise.
There are three million Zimbabweans here, half of whom don’t have any kind of documentation. I think your honest entry approach has proved futile – be streetwise, please, Your Holiness – take a leaf out of their book. Many of us will welcome you here. But you have enter in such a way that the South African government won’t have to answer to their Chinese friends about your entry. Instead they can pretend to fire (while promoting) a Home Affairs official who let you in at the airport. I can think of a non-descript family from India who can land at a National Key Point without a glitch; surely you are more resourceful than that?
I guess your next stop is India, where there is no visa required. Enjoy it, Your Holiness. Because here, you are not welcome.
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM