/ 4 October 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi hails Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Aung San Suu Kyi Hails Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Burma’s pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s, says she sometimes thinks the South African government “does not stand up for human rights in same way as its individuals such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu do”.

But she maintained that the country’s struggle against apartheid was nevertheless an inspiration to her and her followers.

The Nobel Laureate answered questions and addressed about 50 activists and academics at the University of Johannesburg on Monday evening via a video link up that was described by the audience as a “historic” occasion.

In a video address to South Africans, pro-democracy activist and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the country to support Burma in its struggle for democracy.

Suu Kyi is being awarded an honorary doctorate from the university on Tuesday night. Her cousin Dr Sein Win has flown from the United States, where he lives in exile, to accept the degree on her behalf.

Members of the audience that included Burmese exiles and activists called the event “emotional”.

Suu Kyi has not left Burma since 1989 when she was first placed under house arrest for her involvement in pro-democracy activities in the country.

It is believed she is afraid she would not be permitted re-entry by the military-run government should she ever leave. This decision to stay within the borders of Burma meant she was did not see her British husband for the last years of his life as he had returned to the UK and was banned from entering Burma.

Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest and at one point was offered freedom if she left Burma permanently but she chose not to. She was awarded a Nobel peace prize in 1991 for her efforts to obtain democracy peacefully.

Despite the fact she doesn’t travel abroad, the Nobel Laureate told the university’s audience she “would like to come to South Africa and see what is going on there”.

Suu Kyi, sitting on a couch in Burma, with her hair in a trademark ponytail, fielded questions from the audience about life in her country.

On the Dalai Lama
One question touched on South Africa’s foreign policy and continued reluctance to grant the Dalai Lama a visa. The Tibetan spiritual leader has been invited to speak at Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday party on Saturday but the South African government has not granted him a visa despite growing civil pressure on the state to do so.

Suu Kyi was diplomatic. “I do not want to say anything that would hurt South Africa” she said. “It would be so good if those who successfully overcame their problems would remember those who would remember these who did.”

South Africa used its seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2007 to side with China and Russia and voted against placing sanctions on Burma, and has refused to join campaigns to isolate the military-led government.

‘SA has achieved so much’
Yet Suu Kyi heaped praise on South Africa for overcoming the divisions in apartheid. “You have achieved so much. We think will be able to achieve so much with friends of you”.

Suu Kyi graciously shrugged off the compliments she was given by members by the Johannesburg audience. “I am terribly flattered you are inspired by me. I am inspired by you … We draw our inspiration from you. We have always followed developments in South Africa.”

“Your support means so much,” she told South Africans.

Not so fast
However, Dr Thein Win, leader of the local chapter of the Free Burma campaign was scathing of the South Africa’s foreign policy.

The doctor, who is not allowed to re-enter Burma due to his pro-democracy work, says the Burmese people he meets in nearby Thailand have all heard about Mandela — yet he is unable to explain to them why the South Africa government does not support the Burmese activists despite its own liberation history.

“Grass roots activism [to support Burmese democracy] stands in stark contrast to the government’s foreign policy” said the founder of the free Burma campaign,” Dr Kiru Naidoo, after Suu Kyi’s address.

But despite the country’s failure to support her cause, Suu Kyi wished South Africa well. “I hope South Africa can go from strength to strength and become a beacon of hope to the world.”