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SA: 'Court plea on Dalai Lama's visa bizarre publicity tactic'

October 19, 2011 16:41 IST
South Africa's ruling African National Congress has rubbished as a "publicity tactic" and "astonishing silliness" the legal challenge thrown by two opposition parties against its handling of a failed visa bid by the Dalai Lama.

The party, which was at the receiving end of severe criticism over the delay in granting of visa to the Tibetan spiritual leader that led him to shelve his visit to South Africa, said the notion that the government has violated the constitution was misguided. The Inkatha Freedom Party and the Congress of the People lodged an application in the Western Cape high court on Monday in an attempt to force the government to treat further visa applications by the Dalai Lama fairly.

The Dalai Lama was supposed to make a week-long trip to the country to join the 80th birthday celebrations of his fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and speak at several public lectures but the visit was cancelled.

There was widespread speculation that South Africa did not want to offend its largest trading partner China and hence the delay but this was denied by senior government officials.

"This court action is nothing short of astonishing silliness and political shallowness. It is a bizarre publicity tactic that is reflective of political parties whose role in our public space is becoming increasingly insignificant and are therefore desperate to get noticed," the office of African National Congress chief whip Mathole Motshekga said in a statement.

Commenting on the assertion in court papers by the two parties that their rights to engage in discussion with the Dalai Lama and share religious views were violated, the statement said, "The notion that the government has violated the constitution on the Dalai Lama matter is misguided and cannot be backed up by facts".

The court documents include affidavits by the Dalai Lama's representative for Africa, Sonam Tenzing, which state that visa applications in 2009 and another filed in September this year were made difficult by the South African government. A third application is now to be submitted after the Dalai Lama agreed to a request from IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi to attend a prayer meeting in Durban in March next year on the South African public holiday Human Rights Day.

IFP and COPE have asked the court to issue a declaratory order for the Dalai Lama to receive a visa this time round. The government has until Monday to say whether it will oppose the lawsuit. The IFP also brought an application in 2009 in the same court to have the government's decision not to grant the Dalai Lama a visa overturned, but the court threw the case out. A subsequent appeal to the Constitutional Court is still pending, but the IFP said the latest application would override that.

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