“The primary reason for the relocation is the fact that the South African government has refused to allow his holiness the Dalai Lama a visa to attend,” City of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille told reporters at the Civic Centre.
The majority of laureates and laureate institutions had decided not to attend in protest against the South African government’s apparent decision to deny the Dalai Lama a visa.
“In light of this appalling treatment of the Dalai Lama by the South African government, the [summit’s] permanent secretariat had no choice but to contact the Nobel laureates and institutions with a view to identifying possible dates and alternative locations so that they can participate in the Nobel summit as they intended,” De Lille said.
Last month, 14 Nobel laureates wrote to President Jacob Zuma asking that a South African travel visa be granted to the Tibetan spiritual leader, after he failed to secure the document for the third time in five years. At the time the international relations department said the Dalai Lama’s visa application was a closed matter, and that he had cancelled his trip.
De Lille said Zuma had failed to reply to the letter or indicate if the matter was receiving any attention. Various cities, including Rome, which hosted the first seven editions of the event, had expressed interest.
According to De Lille, Cape Town would continue to co-host the event, even though it was likely to be held in another country. De Lille accused government of “embarrassing the country” and “undermining South Africa’s international standing”.
“The national government has treated our requests and those of the laureates themselves with disdain, and in so doing showed that they are more intent on pleasing Beijing than with ensuring that a prestigious international event is held in South Africa, which was intended to celebrate the late Nelson Mandela and 20 years of democracy,” said De Lille.
There has been speculation that South Africa declined the Dalai Lama a visa due to pressure from China. On Wednesday Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu criticised the government for the visa decision. “I am ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch my government,” he said in a statement.
At a ceremony on Thursday to mark the 25th anniversary of his 1989 Nobel peace prize the Dalai Lama on accused South Africa of “bullying a simple person”. Fellow laureate Jody Williams, founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, accused President Jacob Zuma’s government of “selling its sovereignty” to China in a speech at the ceremony.
“We could not go, and the message we were sending … was a message of protest to China. It was a message of protest to governments who sell their soul and their sovereignty to China, as South Africa did,” she said to loud applause from the audience of hundreds of Tibetan refugees.
Nobel laureate FW De Klerk also expressed “sadness” on Thursday.
“It is with the greatest sadness that I have received the news that the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Cape Town has been suspended. I have attended many former Summits and always looked forward to the day when South Africa would be able to host this prestigious event,” the FW De Klerk Foundation said in a statement.
“This is because I believe that we South Africans can make a very special contribution to the international debate on the peaceful resolution of conflicts. What we achieved in South Africa between 1990 and 1996 is perhaps one of the best examples of the vision that Alfred Nobel had in mind when he instituted the prize more than a century ago.” – Sapa