So much for ubuntu

Speechless! Dumbfounded! There is almost nothing to say as we stand in slack-jawed amazement at the reprehensible decision of our government to refuse a visa to the gentle bald man in the saffron sarong.

This must surely mark the turning point when the world’s human rights darling became just another country trying to make good with China and its dog-eat-dog diplomacy.

So if those of us who still believe that human rights must trump realpolitik are speechless, let the Dalai Lama speak for us.

“It is necessary to help others, not only in our prayers, but in our daily lives. If we find we cannot help others, the least we can do is to desist from harming them.”

In today’s world it’s good to have chinas in the East. Our trade relations with China and the preferred nation status build good foundations for future economic growth. The epicentre of the global economy has moved East into China and India. In sculpting foreign policy that has changed its centre of gravity from the old giants of the northern hemisphere, government has done well. But does it really have to lie down and play dead in the face of Chinese bullying? As we report elsewhere, China is more sumo wrestler than diplomat when it comes to Tibet. The Africa Culture and Heritage Trust was told with little finesse that it was threatening Chinese investment in South Africa when it invited the Dalai Lama here in 2004. And it practises cheque-book diplomacy. The organisation was also offered project funding if it cancelled the visit.

This suggests that government’s official reason for not extending a visa to the Dalai Lama is the rubbish we all know it be. It’s entered a Faustian pact with China. Even if we are not an activist state in the Tibetan cause the least we can do is occasionally host its spiritual leader and so cause it no harm.

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.”

Compassion, in this context, might also be equated with human solidarity. As a country that flaunts in international marketing our ubuntu, we have entirely lost the notion of people-to-people solidarity.

The ANC has this week formally kissed goodbye to its undergirding as a movement that owes its success and our freedom to the solidarity of others. Banned and oppressed, its fighters sought refuge in countries from Swaziland to Switzerland. The international anti-apartheid movement was an essential part of the liberation struggle.

The boycotts that formed part of its work included the sports boycott, which intrinsically linked sports and politics. By saying this week that sport is sport and politics should be kept apart from it, Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has disregarded an important part of our history. This week it was the Dalai Lama, but South Africa has also shunned solidarity with the peoples of Darfur and of Burma if our votes at the Security Council are anything to go by. And by siding so long with bully Bob of Harare, it left it to civil society to show compassion with our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe.

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness”
Thank goodness for Health Minister Barbara Hogan, who cut through the bull this week to declare her opposition to government’s visa refusal. We, the citizens, were owed an apology because the Dalai Lama had been refused entry in our names, she said.

She was a voice of principle and reason and of human kindness. Many other leaders have added their voices through the week, including the Nobel laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president FW de Klerk. Tens of thousands of people have signed petitions enjoining government to change its mind.

It should apologise and invite the Dalai Lama to grace our stadiums at the 2010 World Cup next year. We encourage our readers to sign one of the petitions at the addresses below.


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