The Dalai Lama has been forced to cancel a trip to South Africa where he was to take part in celebrations for the 80th birthday of Bishop Desmond Tutu after failing to be given a visa. The Tibetan leader's supporters believe the South African government did not want to anger China, its biggest trading partner.
A spokesman for the Dalai Lama confirmed that the Tibetan leader had been scheduled to leave for South Africa tomorrow. But many weeks after having first submitted his application, there had been no response from South African officials in Delhi. A spokesman, Tenzin Takhla, said the Dalai Lama had subsequently decided that, as it was inconvenient to the South Africa, he should not travel. "We have tried to contact the people [at the South African High Commission] but we have had no answer," he said.
The Dalai Lama had been invited to give speeches at several South African universities, as well as deliver a lecture to mark the birthday of Mr Tutu, a fellow Nobel Laureate. Two years ago, the authorities' decision not to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama was strongly condemned by Mr Tutu. This time, Mr Tutu declared there should be "no Pass Laws for the Dalai Lama", a reference to the Apartheid-era documents that black citizens were obliged to carry.
Pretoria has been accused of bowing to pressure from the Chinese government, which despises the Dalai Lama and has a long history of trying to influence leaders of various countries not to meet with him. China is South Africa's top trading partner and the Associated Press reported that Beijing last week agreed a £1.6bn investment project during a visit of South Africa's deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe. Every year South Africa exports £3.5bn of minerals to China.
"South Africa are kowtowing to the Chinese," said Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress. "This time His Holiness had been invited by Bishop Tutu and it was a strictly religious visit." The Dalai Lama, who earlier this year handed over his political role within the exiled Tibetan community to an elected prime minister, visited South Africa in 1996, when then President Nelson Mandela said it was his country's right to decide who could visit.
Officials in South Africa said the Dalai Lama had not been refused a visa but that his application was in the process of being considered. A spokesman for the foreign ministry, Clayson Monyela, said while the initial application had been made in August, the Dalai Lama's original passport was only submitted two weeks ago. "You cannot have a visa application without the original passport," he said. Asked about claims that South Africa had succumbed to pressure from China, he said: "That is not true. South Africa is a sovereign country. We make our own decision based on our own interests."