Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu may invite his friend the Dalai Lama to attend his 90th birthday, despite South Africa unlawfully delaying his visa application last year.
"His Holiness is the holiest person I have had the fortune to meet," Tutu said on Thursday after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled that the government acted unlawfully in delaying its decision on the Tibetan spiritual leader's visa application.
"He has endured more than 50 years in exile. His grace, magnanimity and lack of bitterness are truly remarkable. I look forward to seeing him again soon, and perhaps I will invite him to celebrate my 90th birthday."
The court found there was evidence indicating the matter was deliberately delayed to avoid a decision. The Dalai Lama was forced to cancel plans to attend Tutu's 80th birthday celebration in October last year, due to the visa application delay.
Tutu was outraged and accused the government of being worse than the apartheid-era one. It was believed that the government was bowing to pressure from China, South Africa's biggest trading partner.
Tutu welcomed the ruling, saying an independent judiciary was one of the most critical cornerstones of a democracy. "This finding of our appeal court reflects positively on our judiciary and our country."
The 77-year-old fled Tibet in 1959 during a failed uprising against China. He lives in exile in India. He is revered by his followers as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha Avalokiteshvara and criticised by the Chinese government as a separatist. Nations are repeatedly warned against meeting him.
The Dalai Lama visited South Africa in 1996, when he met with former president Nelson Mandela. But two years ago, he was prevented from attending a Nobel laureates' conference in the country. At the time the government said his visit would distract from preparations for the Fifa World Cup.
Earlier on Thursday, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said an invitation would be sent to the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa. "All this begs the question as to why the government, in twice preventing the entry of the Dalai Lama to South Africa, would do something so opposite to the will of the people of this country, the values of our Constitution, and all that which is good, noble, and decent in public affairs," said Buthelezi.
The appeal was brought by Buthelezi and Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota after the Western Cape High Court dismissed their application in February. The court found the case moot, as the Dalai Lama cancelled his trip. Buthelezi said the ruling proved that the government had "lost its principles, moral direction and moral legitimacy on this issue".
Lekota was "thrilled that, once again, the rule of law has been upheld". He said the Constitution provided Tutu, and any other citizen, the right to freedom of association. He said the "procrastination" by the then home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was a form of refusal to concede to constitutionally enshrined rights.
He said the ANC-run government's decisions on the Dalai Lama was a result of bowing to pressure from China.
Democratic Alliance MP Sandy Kalyan said South Africa's name would be vindicated in the international arena following the disgrace that had followed the Dalai Lama's application. "The reality is that they [the ANC] were playing to the master's voice of China … given that much of their funding is coming from China for their internal processes, they were obliged to keep the Dalai Lama out," she said.
Buddhist teacher Karen de Vos described the court ruling as "a small leap for Buddhists and a large leap for South Africans". De Vos praised MPs for their hard work, and said she had hope for South Africa. "People are standing up for moral values, not just for economic gain."
The Congress of the People Youth Movement said the ruling should be a lesson for the government not to be dictated to by other countries. "Our country has been steadfast in respecting the sovereignty of other countries … ," said the movement's secretary-general Abel Rangata.
"However it was very unfortunate and unprecedented that under President Jacob Zuma's leadership our country's sovereignty [was] to be controlled by China… ." – Sapa