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25 Mar 2009 10:09
Health Minister Barbara Hogan has called on the South African government to apologise for refusing the Dalai Lama a visa to attend the South African Peace Conference, SABC news reported on Tuesday.
“Just the very fact that this government has refused entry to the Dalai Lama is an example of a government that is dismissive of human rights,” said Hogan.
“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 Tuesday the controversy surrounding Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama’s attendance of the peace conference prompted organisers to postpone the Friday event.
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 presidents 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 ...
“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.
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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