“Is it true that the Dalai Lama has been refused a visa by the South African government?” a student asked in class one morning.
Along with the rest of the class, I was shocked. Reading the newspaper later confirmed it. Astounding! The man who is one of the most well-known proponents of peace worldwide has been denied entry into a country desperately in need of this state. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Dalai Lama had in fact applied for the visa in order to attend the Peace Conference planned to be held in South Africa in 2010. The conference’s aim would be to create new strategies for combating xenophobia and racism, for which it seems South Africa could use all the help it can get. South Africa was chosen as the conference location in order to highlight the country’s commitment to upholding human rights, both at home and across the globe.
Officially, the government has declared that they refused the Dalai Lama entry as they do not want to detract attention from the World Cup with his presence, which would remind people of the ongoing tension between Tibet and China. Of all possible excuses, this must be the most ridiculous conceivable! Living in a country which has only itself recently ended a repressive regime, in which many were forced into exile, one would imagine that South Africa’s leaders would be delighted to emphasize their commitment to human rights by welcoming in a figure such as the Dalai Lama. But instead, they have decided to prioritize business as usual, succumbing to Chinese pressure to keep the Dalai Lama out. This decision will save the country from losing money in their significant business relations with China. But while the financial crisis has hit the whole world hard, it is no excuse for the government to turn its back on the aim of peace for the country. Leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president FW De Klerk seem to agree, as they spoke of boycotting the conference if the government didn’t change their decision. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be necessary, as the conference has now been cancelled altogether. Petitions have been circulating for South African citizens to protest their leaders’ ludicrous behavior, but the government doesn’t appear to be listening. The country has also lost credibility in the international arena.
In my mind, no amount of financial wealth can ever be a substitute for peace, for living in a country where people move in harmony, where we no longer have to keep looking over our shoulders.? Bowing to China to save economic relations is a short-sighted view that may help to ensure our economic stability, but will not foster the attitudes of tolerance and forgiveness necessary to build a sustainably prosperous future and thus a truly new South Africa.