from Africa in Transition

South African Visa for the Dalai Lama: It All Comes Out

December 9, 2011

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Wits University students and lecturers hold placards as they take part in a public march to protest the cancellation of the Dalai Lama's visit to South Africa, in Johannesburg October 5, 2011. (Siphiwe Sibeko/ Courtesy Reuters)

Two opposition parties, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Congress of the People, have taken the African National Congress (ANC) government to court over its refusal to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama to attend Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s eightieth birthday celebration.

As part of that judicial process, Secretary General of Home Affairs Mkuseli Apleni in an affidavit admitted that he advised his minister that to grant the Dalai Lama a visa would jeopardize ties with Beijing. He denied that China had dictated the outcome, but said he "further took into account the fact that the deputy president had just conducted a successful visit to China." He also said that the 2008 visas to the Dalai Lama given by France and Australia had soured relations between those countries and China, "providing some learning to the government and the sensitivities [that] were attendant" to a visit by the Dalai Lama. He also said that the government was indebted to China for arranging for South Africa to be invited to join the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa).

From Apleni’s affidavit, it looks like China did not have to pressure Pretoria; the ANC government was so concerned about Beijing’s sensitivities that it was willing to compromise its sovereignty and risk the opprobrium it has received from heroes of the liberation struggle such as Archbishop Tutu. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the opposition parties and the court system are institutionally strong enough that they can force the government to come clean. Such transparency is rare elsewhere in Africa.

More on:

China

Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa

Civil Society

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