/ 25 March 2009

Govt: Hogan’s Dalai Lama comments ‘unfortunate’

Health Minister Barbara Hogan’s comments about the decision to deny the Dalai Lama a visa for South Africa were ”rather unfortunate”, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Wednesday.

The decision had been made by government, of which Hogan was a member, and she was wrong to have criticised it on a public platform, he told a media briefing.

”The comments of the minister of health were rather unfortunate in the sense that this position on the Dalai Lama is an official position of this government.

”It is unfortunate that the minister chose to go to a public platform to attack a decision of government when she, in fact, is a member of that collective.

”So I think that is something that will have to be addressed in the near future by this government,” said Maseko.

”How do ministers conduct themselves in instances where they do not agree with the position of government?

”Secondly, the way government functions is that it’s not for a minister to go to a public platform and openly attack and disagree with a government position.

”So it’s something that’s going to have to be dealt with at some stage,” Maseko said.

On Tuesday, Hogan added her voice to a chorus of criticism of the move by government to deny the Dalai Lama a visa to attend the now postponed South African Peace Conference.

The Tibetan spiritual leader was to have addressed the conference, aimed at thrashing out ways of using football to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

”Just the very fact that this government has refused entry to the Dalai Lama is an example of a government who is dismissive of human rights,” Hogan said.

”I believe [the government] needs to apologise to the citizens of this country, because it is in your name that this great man who has struggled for the rights of his country … has been denied access.”

On Wednesday, Maseko repeated the government’s stance that the Dalai Lama was refused entry because his presence would draw the world’s attention away from World Cup preparations.

”The government position is that we do not want the sporting events in this country, particularly 2010, to be used as a platform to advance the various different [political] causes around the world.”

That would divert attention from the sporting events themselves.

”Different groups tend to want to use international events as platforms for particular causes, and our view is that 2010 should not be used for that purpose, because today it will be this and tomorrow it could be something else.”

Maseko conceded that economic realities also played a role.

”And, we believe that if you have to compare the interests of a peace conference as opposed to the national interests, including economic interests, bilateral relations with a particular country, a choice was made in this particular case that our interests would be better served if we give priority to making sure we don’t jeopardise our bilateral relations with China in this particular case.”

However, Maseko emphasised it was a South African government decision and the country was not ”instructed” by any other government, including the Chinese government. — Sapa