South African peace event postponed after Dalai Lama ban

Nelson Mandela's grandson tonight called on the South African government to reconsider its decision to refuse the Dalai Lama a visa to attend a gathering of Nobel Laureates in the country.

Mandla Mandela, one of the peace conference’s organisers, said the Tibetan spiritual leader had been barred from attending under pressure from Beijing and added that he would personally seek to get the decision overturned. The South African government has denied this claim.

“South Africa should open a constructive dialogue with China to ensure that giving the Dalai Lama a visa does not cause offence to China,” said Mr Mandela, who is also a candidate for the ruling ANC party in next month’s elections.

“India has given residence to the Dalai Lama and yet manages to have good relations with China,” he added.

The peace conference, due to take place on Friday was indefinitely postponed after the visa ban prompted fears of a boycott from a number of other peace prize winners including South Africa’s former president F W De Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Despite its claims that the decision was not related to Chinese pressure, South Africa has provoked a storm of protest by becoming the first country to deny the Dalai Lama entry.

The conference, meant to discuss football’s role in combating racism and xenophobia, has ended up being an embarrassment to a country that has prided itself on being a model of open democracy since the end of apartheid in 1994.

A government spokesman, Thabo Masebe, said the Dalai Lama’s presence was not in South Africa’s best interest ahead of hosting next year’s football World Cup.

“We stand by our decision. Nothing is going to change. The Dalai Lama will not be invited to South Africa. We will not give him a visa between now and the World Cup,” he said.

China is one of the main trading partners of Africa’s largest economy. There are widespread fears within the country that the global economic downturn will slow South Africa’s economic growth.

For its part China did little to conceal the pressure it routinely brings to bear on countries.

“We resolutely oppose any country’s government having official contact with the Dalai Lama or enabling or offering a platform for his splittist activities,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, told reporters in Beijing.

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