The Dalai Lama. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR
The Dalai Lama. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR

DHARAMSALA — The Dalai Lama on Thursday accused South Africa of "bullying a simple person" after authorities failed to give him a visa to attend a summit of Nobel peace laureates.

"The Nobel Peace Summit scheduled to be held in South Africa to honour the legacy of our fellow laureate, the late Nelson Mandela, has been cancelled as the South African government wouldn’t allow me to attend it," the Dalai Lama said in a speech in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala where he is based.

"This is sort of bullying a simple person."

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader thanked his fellow peace laureates for their efforts, saying they had "worked hard" to resolve the issue.

Outrage

The Dalai Lama's comments, made at a ceremony on Thursday to mark the 25th anniversary of his 1989 Nobel peace prize, followed claims that the peace summit was cancelled after several other laureates pulled out in protest.

The ceremony was attended by two fellow laureates — Jody Williams, founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and the Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi — both of whom are boycotting the South Africa summit.

Ms Williams accused President Jacob Zuma’s government of "selling its sovereignty" to China in a speech at the ceremony at the Dalai Lama’s monastery on Thursday.

"Not a single laureate is happy about that decision (to cancel). Fourteen laureates protested to President Zuma, pressuring him, begging him, to give a visa to His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) so that we all could be together and celebrate in South Africa the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

"We could not go, and the message we were sending... was a message of protest to China. It was a message of protest to governments who sell their soul and their sovereignty to China, as South Africa did," she said to loud applause from the audience of hundreds of Tibetan refugees.

Nobel Peace Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu this week also lashed out at the government for "kowtowing" to China, saying he was "ashamed to call this lickspitle bunch my government".

China frequently puts pressure on foreign governments to avoid interactions with the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959 after an unsuccessful uprising. It accuses the 79-year-old spiritual leader of being a separatist, while he says he only wants more autonomy for Tibet.

Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams has referred all questions to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation. The department could not be reached for comment on Thursday but said last week that the Dalai Lama’s visa application was still being processed when he decided to cancel his trip. The department said it could not be blamed for the Dalai Lama’s decision to withdraw his visa application.

Visa request

In September, the Dalai Lama cancelled his request for a visa to visit South Africa and attend the summit.

The Department of International Relations and Co-operation then released a statement saying that the South African High Commission had been informed of this by the Dalai Lama’s office, and said it considered the matter closed. No corresponding statement could be found on the Dalai Lama’s official website at the time.

The Dalai Lama’s published schedule on the website made no mention of the summit, but listed his other planned domestic and international appearances.

French press agency AFP reported at the time the Dalai Lama’s representative Nangsa Choedon as saying that the South African government "conveyed by phone to me they will not be able to grant the visa for the reason that it would disturb relations between China and South Africa."

This would be the third time the Dalai Lama has applied for and then withdrawn his visa applications after they had generated controversy.

The fist time was in 2009 when he tried to attend a peace summit.

In 2011 he applied for a visa to visit South Africa to attend Bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations. He voluntarily withdrew it after the South African government had been accused of declining it due to pressure exerted on it by the Chinese government.

Sapa, with AFP and Bekezela Phakathi