/ 26 March 2009

Judge Kate O’Regan wades into Dalai Lama debate

Constitutional Court judge Kate O’Regan has come out in support of Health Minister Barbara Hogan who spoke out against a government decision to refuse the Dalai Lama entry to South Africa, SABC radio news reported on Thursday.

”I also want to say that, like you, who remembers the years of the 1980s when South Africa was so fortunate to have friends all over the world assisting our human rights struggle, that it is a matter of dismay that human rights does not seem to enter into the picture of some foreign affairs decisions that are made,” O’Regan was quoted as saying in an SABC news bulletin.

Her comments come as government spokesperson Themba Maseko described Hogan’s comments as ”rather unfortunate”.

”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,” said Maseko.

”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,” Maseko told reporters on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Hogan had 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 2010 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 Fifa 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,” said Hogan.

‘2010 hijacked’
Foreign Affairs Minister Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma also waded into the debate, saying political issues should be kept separate from sporting events.

”We are having a very important sporting tournament, the biggest in the world, 2010 … But we feel that it’s very important to keep the sport and its build-up away from all sorts of issues that are there in the world. We feel that its important not to get the 2010 hijacked by other issues whether it’s Tibet or whatever issue may be there in the world,” said the minister at a media briefing in Cape Town.

”If there is a sporting event it must remain a sporting event.”

She said it became ”messy” when other issues were pulled into a sporting event.

”So we would like to keep 2010 clear of other issues … let’s keep it as sports.” – Sapa