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

October 5, 2011 | 12:25 pm

Desmond Tutu
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -– Government officials in South Africa on  Wednesday were counting the cost of snubbing two international icons -- Nobel peace laureates Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

Many activists, academics, editorialists and politicians bemoaned the South African government's failure to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama for so long that he cancelled his planned trip, days before he was due to fly to South Africa for Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations.

Critics said the South African government appeared wary it would upset its most powerful trade partner, China, if it offered a visa to the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Tutu, who this week called the South African government disgraceful, said in a radio interview Wednesday the government was siding with oppressors, which constituted a devastating insult to the many who died in the country’s struggle against apartheid.

"And here we are siding with one of the most vicious oppressors and we are scared to say no,” he said. “All the people involved in the struggle must be turning in their graves."

At a news conference Tuesday, a visibly angry Tutu had warned that South Africans would one day pray for the fall of the ANC, just as they once prayed for the fall of the National Party and its apartheid policies. He directed his comments at President Jacob Zuma, leader of the ruling African National Congress.

"Hey Mr. Zuma, you and your government don’t represent me,” said Tutu, whose birthday is Friday. “You represent your own interests. I am warning you out of love. I am warning you, like I warned the Nationalists, that one day we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government. You are disgraceful. Watch out! Watch out!"

Several analysts were skeptical of claims Wednesday by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe that South Africa would have offered a visa to the Dalai Lama. Some said the government’s handling of the issue could only make them look bad.

Tinyiko Maluleke, an analyst with the University of South Africa, told the South African Press Assn. the issue was “a huge, huge publicity disaster for our country.”

"There's only one Dalai Lama in the world and only one Desmond Tutu in the world and if any country misses the opportunity to host them or to treat them with courtesy, you can bet that that becomes the worst news about that country, and that is exactly what has happened to our country now," Maluleke said.

Tokyo Sexwale, a senior ANC minister, acknowledged the government would not look good in the world.

"I have great respect for the Arch," he added referring to Tutu, who is the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town. "This situation is very disturbing. It has left a lot to be desired and it is unfortunate that it happened.”


Dalai Lama to give up role as political leader

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

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

--Robyn Dixon

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Photo: South African Nobel Prize laureate Desmond Tutu addresses the media Tuesday in Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Rodger Bosch / AFP/Getty Images