What could have been one of the several “peace” conferences that concerned personalities throughout the world convene turned out to be not only a loss of face but also of its moral standing for the South African Government.
The plot unvieled like this. In 2010 South Africa is to host the world cup football (or soccer for the Americans) and as a prelude to this, a peace conference was planned for this Friday in South Africa with the participation of several Nobel Laureates, including the Dalai Lama. The conference was to discuss how football play a role in promoting world peace. So far so good.
Earlier this week South African media began to report that the Dalai Lama was not being invited to the conference and that this was due to Chinese pressure (as can be seen from this cartoon in a South African newspaper). According to another report, “Dai Bing, ministerial counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, confirmed that his government had appealed to the South African government not to allow the Dalai Lama into the country, warning that if it did so, this would harm bilateral relations.”
There was uproar from all sections of the South African society. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former leader F.W. De Klerk (both Nobel laureates), who were co-hosting the conference, said they would withdraw if the Dalai Lama was not invited.
A South African newspaper reported that “political parties and religious leaders have fired a broadside at the South African government’s blocking of a visit by the Dalai Lama to attend a peace conference.”
Another South African newspaper, The Herald, reported a poll that said ordinary residents are puzzled and agry at the Government decision on the Dalai Lama.
Internationally, the Norwegian Nobel Committee cancelled plans to participate in the conference. “Our view is quite clear. If Dalai is not allowed in, the Nobel Committeewill not participate in the peace conference, says the Committee Secretary, Geir Lundestad to Oslo newspaper Aftenposten,” according to the report.
When asked South African Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa was quoted by the Times as saying that the objective of the conference “is to showcase our preparedness for 2010 and that soccer can bring peace. If the Dalai Lama were to come here it would divert attention from our readiness and everyone would focus on Tibet and China”.
I guess, if the South African Government looked at the reports now, they would have realized that their shortsighted political decision has ironically resulted in what the spokesman said they were trying to avoid. In the process, South Africa has lost the moral high ground on issues of human rights and freedom.
I think the Chinese Foreign Ministry was both gleeful that they were able to stop one country from inviting the Dalai Lama as well as shy in wanting to be seen as intervening in another country’s internal matters. After all, who comes to South Africa is South Africa’s business, or is it?