We've lost the plot!

Is it not a cruel irony that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate His Holiness the Dalai Lama was denied the right to attend the South African Peace Conference, which as a consequence, has been called off?

For decades South Africa drew liberally on the world’s goodwill and solidarity with our freedom struggle. We would not have won our emancipation without the direct intervention of the global community. Our leadership does not seem to have grasped that solidarity, especially in the context of a liberation movement is, a two-way street.

The refusal to give the Dalai Lama a visa application is a dramatic move. It is more astonishing as we realise that, in the name of economic relations with China, our government continues to defend a move that is clearly viewed by the South African public and the international community as a monumental mistake.

According to presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe it was believed that if the Dalai Lama attended the Peace Conference, the focus would shift away from the 2010 World Cup. If the office of the president feels that the South African community is so single-minded in its scope, surely they would surmise that it is only football, and not Tibet that will hold our gaze.

Clearly the Chinese have impressed upon our leaders the grand sort of punishment to be issued should they capitulate to outrage from the citizenry. Squash them, like we do, they seem to be saying.

The African Cultural Heritage Trust (ACHT), which hosted the third and most recent visit of HH the Dalai Lama in 2004, had first-hand experience of attempted Chinese intervention when, during preparations for the visit, its officials were summoned to the Chinese Embassy in Pretoria.

Qhuzulini Sithole, ACHT chair, said: “At this meeting the ACHT was offered financial support [from China] for its projects if it cancelled HH the Dalai Lama’s trip. When the ACHT refused the assistance, the embassy threatened the ACHT” inferring that they were “seriously placing China’s investment in South Africa at risk. We were warned to think about the livelihoods of our fellow South Africans.”

In a statement the South African Friends of Tibet said: “In barring HH the Dalai Lama from entering the country to attend the conference, the South African government has, in our view, acted unconstitutionally with regard to religious and other public freedoms. The Peace Conference, in its compromised, Chinese-dictated form, would serve to strengthen this tendency.”

Foreign affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa has said that “as far as the South African government is concerned, no invitation was extended to the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa”.

Sonam Tenzing, the Dalai Lama’s representative in Pretoria, has confirmed the opposite. “It is wrong to say His Holiness was not invited by the South African government. From day one we have been saying His Holiness was invited by the three South African Nobel Laureates to attend the historic Peace Conference.”

It seems, however, that history is taking its own course. Before the conference was cancelled both Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and FW de Klerk had declared their intention of pulling out in solidarity with the Dalai Lama.

This inspired a similar response from the Nobel Committee in Oslo—leading to the unravelling of the conference.

The esteemed moral high ground, many years the habitat of the ANC—and the ostensible reason for the peace conference in the first place—will certainly no longer be in the hands of our leaders. It would instead result in an embarrassment of the highest order, and perhaps one well deserved.

Guy Lieberman served as local liaison for the visits of HH the Dalai Lama to South Africa and between 1995 and 2000 was a full-time activist for the Tibetan freedom movement

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