Africa News blog
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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.
South African police say at least 13 people died over the weekend of May 17 as a wave of xenophobic violence spread to more townships. Local media put the total death toll at around 20 since the violence broke out, fuelled by widespread poverty and social problems more than decade after the end of apartheid. The bloodshed has included the “necklacing” of at least one man who was burnt to death and it has echoes of the brutal violence at the end of apartheid.
The immigrants, including millions who have fled from Zimbabwe, are accused of taking jobs and being responsible for the high rate of violent crime. They say they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. The outbreak of violence is another blow to the policies of President Thabo Mbeki, accused both of spreading the fruits of black rule too slowly to his poor supporters and of failing to broker an end to Zimbabwe’s crisis. It is an embarrassment for a country that was once known as one of the most welcoming to immigrants and asylum seekers. Many members of the current African National Congress (ANC) leadership took refuge abroad during the anti-apartheid struggle. Is the rainbow nation losing its unique status as a beacon of liberal attitudes in Africa? Have the South African poor lost patience with Mbeki’s government? What do you think?