REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG -- To one prominent South African businesswoman, they were "a lovely set of old men" who just wanted to celebrate a birthday: Nobel Peace laureates, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
But with no South African decision on a visa by Tuesday, Tibet's spiritual leader canceled his visit to Cape Town to celebrate the birthday of his friend, Tutu, Friday.
Businesswoman and former anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele said it was unfair not to grant a visa.
"He can't have a party with his friends and they are just old men," Ramphele said of Tutu at a candlelight vigil outside parliament in Cape Town on Monday. "Isn't it ironic, that when he's celebrating his 80th birthday, the most fundamental right -- the right to association -- is being taken away from him?" SAPA reported.
The Dalai Lama, 76, calls Tutu, retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town "my spiritual older brother."
"He is always playful, always jovial, always teasing. He is just such a nice person," the Dalai Lama said of Tutu in an authorized biography released to coincide with Tutu's 80th birthday.
South Africa stalled the visa because of fear of offending the country's biggest trade partner, China, analysts believe.
The failure to grant a visa was condemned by activists, academics, trade unions, the opposition and others.
Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, said Monday that the South African government sometimes forgets that other countries are still struggling for the freedom and democracy that South Africa had won.
"Sometimes we get the feeling perhaps that South Africa, or rather I must be frank and say perhaps South African authorities, do not support the struggle for democracy and human rights as enthusiastically as, for example, individuals like Archbishop Desmond Tutu," she told journalists in an interview via video at the University of Johannesburg.
The Dalai Lama's office in India issued a statement Tuesday that with just days to go and no visa issued, the Dalai Lama believed the South African government found it "inconvenient" to issue a visa.
"His Holiness has thus decided to call off his upcoming visit to South Africa, and he regrets the inconvenience caused to his hosts and the large number of the South African public who are keenly waiting to receive him and hear his message," the statement said.
University of Witwatersrand Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa expressed dismay over what he called the government's "deliberate indecision" and its "silencing" of the Dalai Lama's voice.
"We, as South Africans, have a moral obligation to provide a platform for all voices to be heard, including the voice of the Dalai Lama. The university condemns the state for once again not granting a visa for this stalwart of peace to enter our country.
"The state's deliberate indecision ridicules the values pertaining to freedom of speech, expression and movement enshrined in our constitution, and the freedoms for which so many South African have lived, and indeed died."
The Dalai Lama had planned to give an address at the university during his visit. He was also due to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture.
The Dalai Lama gave up his role as Tibetan political leader in March, but remains an important spiritual symbol, beloved by Tibetans. He fled Tibet during a failed uprising in 1959 and lives in exile in India.
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama meet the media in Cape Town on Aug. 21, 1996. Credit: Mike Hutchings / Reuters