Archbishop Desmond Tutu is outraged by the government of South Africa’s refusal to stand up to China by failing to provide a visa for his friend, Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama.
Speaking to reporters in Cape Town, Tutu said the African National Congress-party dominated government of President Jacob Zuma is worse than the regimes under apartheid and that he prayed for the collapse of the ANC.
The Dalai Lama had been invited to Tutu’s 80th birthday celebration this month, but the Pretoria government (for the second time) didn't grant him a proper visa, raising suspicions that the Chinese government pressured South African officials.
Representatives of the Dalai Lama, who is based in northern India, began the visa application process in June, but South African officials repeatedly delayed granting the travel documents. Last week, the Dalai Lama finally gave up.
Our government is worse than the apartheid government because at least you would expect it with the apartheid government, Tutu raged at a press conference for South African reporters.
Our government we expect to be sensitive to the sentiments of our constitution.
He further warned the ruling party: Let the ANC know they have a large majority. Well, [former Egyptian leader] Mubarak had a large majority, [former Libyan leader] Gadhafi had a large majority. I am warning you: watch out. Watch out.”
Referring to China’s brutal occupation of Tibet, Tutu railed: Our government – representing me! – says it will not support Tibetans being viciously oppressed by China. You, president Zuma and your government, do not represent me. I am warning you, as I warned the [pro-apartheid] nationalists, one day we will pray for the defeat of the ANC government.
Tutu seemed to take the government’s refusal to grant a visa to the Tibetan leader personally.
I have to say I can't believe it, I really can't believe it, he told the conference of reporters.
Wake me up and tell me this is actually happening here. It's quite unbelievable. The discourtesy they have shown to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama! The Dalai Lama, anywhere in the world, they have problems finding a venue that can contain the people who want him. He goes to New York and Central Park is overflowing. The discourtesy is mind-blowing.
The former Nobel Peace Prize laureate said he believes that the South African government has effectively banned the Dalai Lama from the country.
Many, many people are appalled in many parts of the world, especially people who supported us during the struggle. They are weeping and saying, 'South Africa? It can't be.'
In response to Tutu’s diatribe, the ruling ANC told the archbishop to relax.
Jackson Mthembu, the ANC's national spokesperson, said in a statement: The African National Congress calls upon all South Africans to stay calm, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and afford the government of South Africa the opportunity to take us all into its confidence around the Dalai Lama visa application and its subsequent withdrawal. The archbishop knows it well deep down his heart, mind and soul that the ANC and its government cannot be equated to the repressive and divisive apartheid regime, which had never cared for the majority of the people of South Africa, Africans in particular.
Mthembu further blasted Tutu’s comments in relating the ANC to Libya and Egypt.
The ANC has actually done contrary to the archbishop claims,: he said.
“The history of the ANC pre- and post-apartheid has been that of consultation and listening to all sectors and the views of those who might also be against the policies of the ANC. We are appealing to the archbishop to calm down and work together with the ANC and its government, first, on the Dalai Lama issue and secondly, we appeal to the archbishop not to pray for the demise of the ANC-led government, but instead to work together with the ANC and pray for the ANC-led government to deliver a better life for all the people of South Africa.
According to the Guardian newspaper of Britain, Tutu has much company in his criticism of the government.
Ela Gandhi, granddaughter opf Mahatma Gandhi, who had planned to present the Dalai Lama with a peace prize, told the paper: I'm very disappointed. We were looking forward to him coming and to presenting the award. I really feel the whole situation has been handled so badly. It's discourteous for a person of his stature to be told to wait for so long. For a person of peace to be treated like this is wrong.
She added: Everybody thinks this is because of pressure from China. It's very sad another country is allowed to dictate terms to our government. It's going back to apartheid times. I am ashamed of my own country.
Opposition politicians in South Africa have joined in the attacks.
Stevens Mokgalapa, shadow deputy foreign minister for the Democratic Alliance, said in a statement: The inescapable conclusion is that the South African government has predictably strung the Dalai Lama along to make it impossible for him to plan his trip. That way it could avoid making a decision that would either upset the Chinese or upset millions of peace-loving South Africans and citizens around the globe.”
Mokgalapa added: But by delaying [the granting of the visa] the government made its choice: it allowed China to dictate foreign policy. This is a sad day for those of us who believe in a sovereign foreign policy based on ubuntu [humanist philosophy] and human rights. It is not acceptable that the government has allowed a breach of this sovereignty by bowing to pressure from a foreign power.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.