De Lille: Govt disingenuous over Dalai Lama saga

Patricia de Lille has described the latest visa ordeal surrounding the Dalai Lama as a great shame.

Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Picture: AFP.

CAPE TOWN - Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille says government is being disingenuous about the latest saga surrounding the Dalai Lama's visa application.

Yesterday, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation announced that the Tibetan spiritual leader had cancelled his planned trip to South Africa and that it had not denied him access to the country.

The Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India and is at loggerheads with China over Tibet, had been hoping to join a Nobel peace conference in Cape Town next month but withdrew his visa application after being told it would be unsuccessful.

But the department maintains normal procedure was followed and the application was withdrawn.

It says it considers the matter closed.

De Lille has described the ordeal as a great shame.

"It is definitely a pity because we are celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela and so many others who fought for our country and who fought for our country and fought for our freedom."

At the same time, The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says the extent of government's trade with China has a direct impact on the manner in which it has dealt with the Dalai Lama's requests to travel to the country.

The ISS says while China has largely attempted to influence the global view on the spiritual leader, its effect has been greatest on South Africa.

The institute's Jakkie Cilliers says South Africa has a lot to lose should its ties with China be strained.

He says South Africa is trying desperately to keep its relationship with China favourable.

Earlier today, China thanked South Africa for taking the "correct position" on the alleged visa refusal.

The ministry praised South Africa for its correct position and indicated it highly appreciates the respect given on the country's "sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Government has refused to be drawn on China's response to the visa debacle.

Previous delays in dealing with the Dalai Lama's visa requests by the African National Congress government have angered South Africans who see it as a betrayal of the country's commitment to human rights since apartheid ended 20 years ago.

China brands the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule of Tibet, a separatist. The Dalai Lama says he is seeking more autonomy for his Himalayan homeland.

A South African court ruled two years ago that officials had "unreasonably delayed" a decision on granting the Dalai Lama a visa in 2011, largely out of fear of angering China, now a major African and South African trading partner and investor.

Because of the delay, the Dalai Lama was unable to attend the 80th birthday of his friend and fellow Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town in October 2011. The previous visa denial, in 2009, was also for a peace conference.