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SA peace meet postponed over Dalai Lama visa spat

Staff Reporter

The controversy surrounding the Dalai Lama's attendance of the South African Peace Conference has prompted organisers to postpone the Friday event.

The controversy surrounding Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama’s attendance of the South African Peace Conference has prompted organisers to postpone the Friday event.

“Given that the purpose of the conference is peace ... the convenors have decided, in the spirit of peace, to postpone the South African Peace Conference to ensure it is held under conducive conditions,” Irvin Khoza, one of the conference’s committee members, told a media briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

The Dalai Lama was expected to address the conference, whose aim was to discuss ways of using football to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The government, however, refused to grant him a visa, saying his involvement would draw the world’s attention from the World Cup preparations.

“We want the focus to remain on South Africa. A visit by the Dalai Lama would move the focus from South Africa onto issues in Tibet,” said government spokesperson Thabo Masebe on Monday.

The decision was met with opposition from South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former president FW de Klerk, as well as several political parties.

Both Tutu and De Klerk, whose signatures were attached to the invitation sent to the Dalai Lama in November last year, on Monday said they would boycott the event in solidarity with the Dalai Lama.

Former president Nelson Mandela would also not attend the event, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said on Monday.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee had indicated it would also not send a representative, said Khoza.

Conference committee member and Nelson Mandela’s grandson Chief Mandla Mandela said the visa saga was “very disappointing ... as the whole peace conference was organised around the laureates”.

“This rejection by the government to not issue a visa, is really tainting our efforts at democracy.

“I am very saddened that somebody like the Dalai Lama is being turned down ... I don’t think that as sovereign democracy country, we need to succumb to international pressure,” Mandela said.

He slammed the government for refusing to grant the Dalai Lama a visa just days before the conference as they had been notified as early as October last year.

“We started planning as early as September last year and we sent a list of those we wanted to invite to the government as early as October last year ... We feel we should have been warned as early as December last year because this whole thing would have been avoided,” Mandela said.

Others invited to attend the conference included South African-born actress Charlize Theron, former secretary general of the United Nations Kofi Anan, Queen Rania Al-Yassin of Jordan and United States President Barack Obama.

The group was expected to start arriving in the country on Wednesday ahead of a guided tour of Soweto on Thursday and the main event at Constitutional Hill on Friday.

It was not known how much money had been already spent on the event.

“The Royal Bafokeng people were financing the event so it’ll be unfair of us to comment on that,” said Khoza.

He said, however, that he “remained optimistic” that they would be able to host the conference later, before the World Cup.—Sapa

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