South Africa refused the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, a visa to visit Cape Town. The Dalai Lama was invited to attend the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates along with his fellow Nobel Laureates. South Africa has previously refused the Dalai Lama a visa, and London-based Free Tibet says that this repeated refusal is closely linked to South Africa’s relationship with their biggest trading partner, China.
South Africa’s Foreign Ministry insists the decision is independent.
Cape Town’s mayor says she is appalled by the decision. “Based on further discussions with the Dalai Lama’s representatives both in South Africa and Dharamsala, it has now become clear that the officials from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) contacted the Dalai Lama’s office to inform them that the South Africa government would not grant him a visa to attend the summit, due to sensitivities related to the Chinese government,” Patricia de Lille, the Executive Mayor of Cape Town, said in a statement on Friday.
“The actions of DIRCO are absolutely appalling, and an affront to a key theme of the summit: celebrating 20 years of South Africa’s constitutional democracy and the legacy of the late Nelson Mandela. It is indeed a dark day for South Africa when the ideals for which Nelson Mandela and so many others fought are sold to the highest bidder,’’ she added.
Mayor de Lille said that the Mandela, Luthuli, De Klerk and Tutu Foundations will be writing to South African President Zuma to appeal to him to intervene and ensure that a visa is granted so that the Dalai Lama can attend the summit.
Past Nobel Peace Laureates, including former heads of State, who have already signed the letter of appeal to President Zuma include President Lech Walesa, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Muhammad Yunus, Jody Williams, Betty Williams, Tawakkul Karman, Leimah Gbowee and Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.
Ms. de Lille also warned the government that the attending Nobel Laureates may end up protesting against the country’s decision.
South Africa welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping in March 2013. China is South Africa’s largest export market.
The Dalai Lama lives in exile in India. In 2011, he resigned from political duties. The same year, China applied pressure on the South African government to deny the former leader entry to celebrate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s birthday. The Dalai Lama was invited by a number of universities and organizations including Stellenbosch University, the Tutu Centre and the Mahatma Gandhi Trust to give public talks and deliver Bishop Tutu’s 80th Birth Anniversary Inaugural. A South African court ruled that officials had “unreasonably delayed” a decision on granting a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama that year.
Mr. Tutu sharply criticized his government for cow towing to China and not supporting Tibetans, who is said are “viciously oppressed by the Chinese.” He said at the time that the decision “disgraceful” and worse than the apartheid regime.
The South African government also kept the Dalai Lama from attending a Nobel laureates’ peace conference in 2009, saying it would detract attention from the 2010 soccer World Cup that was hosted here.
Earlier this year, Norway’s government refused to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize. The country’s reaction is similar to other countries who fear China’s reprisal if they accommodate the Dalai Lama or talk about China’s human rights record. At the time, the Chinese government has cautioned all government representatives from having any official meetings with the Tibetan Buddhist leader. Norway was blacklisted by China in 2010 when Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
Tibet today is one of the most repressed societies in the world. According to Free Tibet, Tibetans in Tibet are denied the right to speak freely, to celebrate their national identity and culture and to pursue their religion without state interference and control. They are even forbidden to carry or display images of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama and their national flag. Despite this repression and a lifetime of occupation, Tibetans continue to oppose China’s rule and seek freedom to exercise their right to self-determination as a people.
In struggling peacefully for their human and civil rights, Tibetans pay a heavy price. China uses lethal force, torture, arbitrary detention, punitive sentencing, collective punishments and surveillance in an attempt to control the Tibetan population.
The organization says further that China’s repression generates additional resistance, leading to a constant cycle of protest and human rights abuses.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited South Africa in 1996, 1999 and 2004. He met with the late South African President Nelson Mandela in 1996 and 2004.