The Dalai Lama’s Visa


“Our government is worse than apartheid government, because at least you were expecting it from the Apartheid government…”

“We were expecting we would have a government that was sensitive to the sentiments of our constitution…”

“People were opposed to injustice and oppression and people believed that we South Africans would be on the side of those who are oppressed. Tibet is being oppressed…”

“Our government, representing me, says it will not support Tibetans who are being oppressed viciously by the Chinese…”

These are words spoken by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu about the South African government’s indecision in issuing the Dalai Lama a visa to attend his 80th birthday celebrations in Cape Town this week.

Withholding the Dalai Lama’s visa seems odd to many South Africans because it would have been his fourth visit since 1994 and Beijing also raised eyebrows at those other visas. The government denied the Dalai Lama’s visa application in 2009 because of a “justified fear” that his visit could be used to promote the Tibetan cause since it was to occur around the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.


A local Cape Town newspaper article entitled “SA Flirts with Karma” posed the question, “Is the position of the Tibetans any different from that of other ethnic national minorities in China? If it is different, in what respect is it different? If it is not different, why does the issue of Tibet have such a high-profile, while the others are unseen and unheard? Few people realize that in addition to the majority Han ethnic group, China is home to 55 other ethnic minorities, including Tibetans. How these various people absorbed into China is a complicated story stretching over centuries.”

 Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan

Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan

The author of the article, Dr. Z Pallo Jordan, says “South Africa is caught between the rock of Western insistence on regime change in Libya and the hard place of a disunited African Union’s position requiring an inclusive government. As a member of the United Nations Security Council, China’s diplomatic support for South Africa could decide whether it succeeds or fails. China’s support allowed South Africa to become a member of the BRICS (emerging economies in Brazil, Russia, India, and China).”

Like Jordan, many think South Africa should tell China that their country defines its own path in international relations. Many also believe that neither China nor South Africa benefited by the country’s refusal to issue the Dalai Lama’s visa and that the action “backfired miserably” giving Tibet’s status in China a higher profile.

Dr. Jordan is the former South African Minister of Arts and Culture and a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee.

Another take on the visa debacle is that since Tutu is the “second most famous South African” after beloved former President Nelson Mandela, maybe the “powers that be” spoiled his birthday party and kept his friend from attending because of jealousy?

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