14th Dalai Lama

South Africa's appeal court slams delay of visa to Dalai Lama

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 4:23am

A South African court ruled yesterday that officials "unreasonably delayed" a decision about whether to grant the Dalai Lama a visa for a planned 2011 trip, largely out of fears of angering the Chinese government.

The Supreme Court of Appeal's decision heavily criticised the former Home Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, an ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, who now serves as chairwoman of the African Union Commission. While the African National Congress-led government was only ordered to pay court costs, the ruling is an embarrassment and raises questions about politics influencing decisions of the immigration services.

"What is justified by the evidence is an inference that the matter was deliberately delayed so as to avoid a decision," Judge R.W. Nugent said. "It hardly needs saying the minister is not entitled to deliberately procrastinate. Procrastination by itself establishes unreasonable delay."

The Dalai Lama was welcomed to South Africa in 1996 and met the country's first black and democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. But in 2009, the South African government kept the Dalai Lama from attending a Nobel laureates' peace conference, saying it would detract attention from the 2010 soccer World Cup.

The spiritual leader made plans to travel to South Africa in October 2011 to attend the 80th birthday party of a fellow Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He applied for a visa through the South African High Commission office in New Delhi about two months before the planned visit.

Despite his meeting all the requirements, the South African government did not issue the visa and the Dalai Lama ultimately withdrew his application. In his ruling, Nugent acknowledged that pressure from China, a major trading partner with South Africa, played a part in the delays. The Dalai Lama wants increased autonomy for Tibet, the homeland from which he has been exiled since 1959. China accuses him of being a separatist.