South Africa versus the Dalai Lama — who’s lying?
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
It still remains unclear whether the South African government or the Dalai Lama has been lying about the latter’s visa application to attend next week’s cancelled World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Cape Town.
And over the last few days the matter has turned into another political tit-for-tat between the ruling party, ANC, and its opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).
Western Cape ANC leader Marius Fransman yesterday said the DA and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille “must apologise for lies”.
Fransman was referring to De Lille’s joint press conference with Nobel peace laureate FW de Klerk on Thursday. De Lille and De Klerk accused the national government for bowing to Chinese pressure when it allegedly denied the Dalai Lama an entry visa.
The Dalai Lama, a Buddhist monk, is the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who has campaigned for his country’s independence from China since the late 1950s.
He had planned to attend the 14th annual Nobel summit, scheduled for Cape Town next week, alongside other peace prize winners.
The Dalai Lama claimed he would not attend the summit as the South African government refused him a visa – a claim the government denies.
This led various Nobel laureates to pull out of the event and organisers taking the summit to a yet-to-be-named alternative city.
President Jacob Zuma entered the fray yesterday, with his office issuing a statement that he takes “strong exception to the attack on the South African government” by De Lille.
Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj said De Lille’s accusation that the government denied the Dalai Lama a visa was “inaccurate and misleading”.
“The South African government was informed by the office of the Dalai Lama that he will not be attending the summit, thus effectively cancelling his visa application,” said Maharaj.
“We take strong exception to the utterances of the mayor of Cape Town which have cast aspersions on the integrity of the South African government and the country.”
Fransman accused De Lille of “abusing her government office to run a petty party political campaign on the back of the exiled Dalai Lama”.
“The DA and De Lille cooked up a stink for party political gains around the Dalai Lama. This is unacceptable and irresponsible of a person in her position,” said Fransman.
The DA’s federal chairman Wilmot James retorted: “This is not a party political issue.”
“It has to do with the fact that a visa has been denied to the Dalai Lama, who stands for peace and co-existence. Those are not legitimate grounds for him to be refused a visa,” said James.
“We are aware of the fact that China has inordinate influence over the government. It’s usually at their behest that governments are denying visas to the Dalai Lama. It is a great concern for us that government is in the pocket of the Chinese government.”
He added: “The Dalai Lama said he did not cancel his visa.”
Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department of international relations and cooperation, said the government has the Dalai Lama’s “written confirmation, cancelling his trip to South Africa”.
This had been submitted to the South African high commission in New Delhi, India, he said.
“It meant the government did not have to take a decision on whether it needed to issue a visa or not… They are not telling the truth. The mayor (De Lille) is lying,” he added.
Monyela also said the government’s foreign policy was also not influenced by China.
“That is an insult to the independence of our foreign policy… Nobody influences our foreign policy,” he said.
Fransman further accused De Lille of transgressing intergovernmental laws and protocols.
“The City of Cape Town disregarded national cabinet instructions to submit an application for approval when such events are staged as it has unplanned budget implications for our country,” said Fransman.
“Cape Town only gave notice of the event after things went wrong. De Lille overstepped the mark by claiming that the state failed to issue travel permissions, abusing her position and state resources to attack the state.
“This means the city messed up the process by not even seeking prior approval to host an international event and to get government departments aligned to ensure unplanned spending, ease of passage, VIP reception and a successful hosting.
“South Africa is not a federal state and the Cape is not an island divorced from the rest of the country.”
The Western Cape ANC also said De Lille “spreads lies and publicly badmouths our country, state and president”.
It added: “The ANC also questions the Dalai Lama’s playing victim, after he withdrew an application now the third time by not waiting for the outcome of the process as if he is entitled to preferential treatment and then abuse South Africa in his proxy battle against China. The Dalai Lama should stop this.”
On Thursday, following De Lille’s press briefing, the Dalai Lama reportedly blamed the South African government of “bullying a simple person”.
News outlet Agence-France Press reported that the Dalai Lama made a “speech in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala where he is based” alongside other Tibetan exiles.
It quoted him: “The Nobel Peace Summit scheduled to be held in South Africa to honour the legacy of our fellow laureate, the late Nelson Mandela, has been cancelled as the South African government wouldn’t allow me to attend it.”
De Lille meanwhile yesterday stood her ground, reiterating that the city’s authorities were “deeply angry and greatly disappointed that Cape Town will no longer be able to host the event”.
Italian city Rome was being considered as an alternative venue, she said, while Cape Town had already lost R255,000 in its preparations for the summit.
It was expected that “14 Peace Laureates, 11 Peace Laureate organisations… 584 delegates, 128 youths and 48 members of the media” were planning to attend the summit.
Councillor Garreth Bloor, mayoral committee member for tourism, events and economic development, said the city had also budgeted “around R10-million for the (three-day) event for service providers”.
“We have lost a massive economic opportunity of an estimated R60-million through visitor spend and in terms of the valuable international exposure as well as with ongoing daily coverage locally,” he said.
De Klerk said the summit’s location change would also “result in unnecessary expenditure for many of those who had already made arrangements to come to Cape Town”.
He said Nobel laureates canceling their summit attendance was “not the most appropriate response to the visa refusal”.