African business, politics and lifestyle
Did Dalai Lama ban make sense?
Organisers have postponed a conference of Nobel peace laureates in South Africa after the government denied a visa to Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who won the prize in 1989 – five years after South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu won his and four years before Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk won theirs for their roles in ending the racist apartheid regime.
Although local media said the visa ban followed pressure from China, an increasingly important investor and trade partner, the government said it had not been influenced by Beijing and that the Dalai Lama’s presence was just not in South Africa’s best interest at the moment.
The conference, ahead of the 2010 World Cup, had been due to discuss how to use soccer to fight xenophobia and racism.
“We stand by our decision. Nothing is going to change. The Dalai Lama will not be invited to South Africa. We will not give him a visa between now and the World Cup,” said government spokesman Thabo Masebe.
Whatever the reasoning, it angered the Nobel laureates in a country which has prided itself as a model of democracy and human rights since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, one of the conference organisers said the rejection was tainting South Africa’s democratic credentials.
“The government needs to review its decision and come to the party,” said Mandela, set to become a parliamentarian with the ruling African National Congress after the election in April.
Allowing a visit by the Dalai Lama could certainly have made relations with Beijing more difficult. Ties between France and China were badly strained after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met him in December, when France held the European Union presidency.
But banning the Dalai Lama has also created a storm that South Africa was unlikely to have wanted either.
Was the ban the right thing to do?