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SOUTH AFRICA: Tutu celebrates 80th birthday without Dalai Lama

October 7, 2011 |  5:57 pm

Politicians, well-wishers and an Irish rock star packed St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday for a service filled with song and laughter in honor of Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday.  

It was the highlight of three days of celebrations for the retired archbishop, known as the conscience of South Africa, who was a leading voice against white minority rule and chaired the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

But the absence of one invited guest put a damper on the week’s festivities.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, canceled his trip to South Africa after the government failed to issue him a visa by Tuesday.  He sent his birthday greetings in a video posted Friday on his office's website and planned to take part in a Google+ video Hangout to be shown at the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture on Saturday.

In the video message, the Dalai Lama said he missed his "mischievous brother" and was "very, very eager" to see him in person. But when there was no word on his visa application, he assumed the government must find the proposed visit "inconvenient."

"I’m quite sad," he said.

Critics suggested the South African government was reluctant to offend China, its biggest trade partner. A visibly angry Tutu accused officials earlier this week of siding with oppressors and warned that South Africans would one day pray for the fall of the governing African National Congress, just as they once prayed for the fall of the country’s oppressive white rulers.

Few believed Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who recently returned from a visit to China, when he said the visa would have been granted. But on Friday, Tutu stepped down from the pulpit to embrace Motlanthe, the South African Press Assn. reported.

"Thank you for coming despite some of the hiccups we have had," Tutu was quoted as saying, as Motlanthe smiled and bowed his head.

The audience, which included the musician Bono and former President Nelson Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, applauded and laughed. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba later led the church in singing “Happy Birthday.”


SOUTH AFRICA: Weighing China's sensitivity over Dalai Lama visa

SOUTH AFRICA: Dalai Lama cancels visit, with no decision on visa

SOUTH AFRICA: Counting the cost of snubbing Tutu, the Dalai Lama

-- Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles

Photo: Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu blows out candles on a cake during his 80th birthday celebration in Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday. Credit: Pool Photo.