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Friends of Tibet promise to continue fight for Dalai Lama

November 23, 2010

Nov 22 2010
Mail & Guardian Online

Local politicians and lobbyists vowed this weekend to continue their fight for a South African entry visa for the Dalai Lama following meetings with the exiled Tibetan leader in India.    

Ian Macfarlane, director of the South African Friends of Tibet lobby group, met with the Dalai Lama in India last week. He was part of a group of South African lobbyists who returned home from New Delhi this weekend. They attended the Conference on the Future of Tibet alongside 250 delegates from 56 countries in New Delhi.

Macfarlane said that they had also met with Samdhong Rinpoche, who is prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

"We handed over statements of support for the Tibetan government-in-exile. We had support documents from the IFP [Inkatha Freedom Party], DA [Democratic Alliance] and the Freedom Front Plus political parties. They all support the Tibetans," said Macfarlane.

Rinpoche responded in a statement that the Tibetans were "immensely grateful" for the South African political support.

"We are not seeking anything other than the implementation of explicit provisions of the autonomy enshrined in the present Chinese constitution for the people of minority nationalities," said Tripa.

Denied visa application
A legal battle to get the Dalai Lama to an international peace conference in South Africa erupted early last year when the government refused him entry. Government officials said that the Dalai Lama had not applied for a visa. Lobbyists argued that the government had succumbed to Chinese government pressure to cut ties with the Tibetan people who are struggle against alleged human rights abuses in China.

South African lawyers proved the Dalai Lama had filled out all relevant forms and they then sent it to the media.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi took court action against the government to gain an entry visa for the Dalai Lama. The Western Cape High Court dismissed the matter as it did not view it as urgent -- the basis on which Buthelezi had applied for the matter to be heard.

Buthelezi's spokesperson Mario Oriani-Ambrosini said this weekend that they were considering re-igniting their court action.

"The court application is still on the roll. We can resume that case," he said.

"This is not about the Dalai Lama but about our freedom of speech and association. We need to know if there is this super government of China behind our government."

The Tibetan cause
He said that the South African government was "going to have a fight on its hands" as a host of Members of Parliament (MP) were going to lobby it to "realise the importance of the Tibetan cause".

"The government keeps saying that it's a Chinese internal matter. Human rights are not internal matters. Our foreign policy is dependent on Chinese donations to the ruling ANC [African National Congress]," he claimed.

"China is a dominant power in the world. We accept the role that it plays in Africa. But we want a democratic China. The issue of Tibet is a key to China's democracy."

Oriani-Ambrosini said that they also planned to establish a Tibet support desk in Parliament and would work with "all politicians".

MP Sandy Kalyan from the DA said this weekend that her party supported the IFP's Tibet plan. She said that they had also lobbied for the Dalai Lama to be awarded the "freedom of the City of Cape Town" so that he could travel to South Africa. She said that the Cape Town city council was still "discussing handing the Dalai Lama the freedom of the city".

Both Oriani-Ambrosini and Kalyan have met with the Dalai Lama and pledged support for the Tibetan struggle against alleged Chinese government repression.

China's government blamed
The Chinese government has publicly sought to isolate the Dalai Lama by placing pressure on international governments -- including the United States of America earlier this year -- to not meet with the Tibetan leader.

Kalyan said that the DA wanted the South African government to "discuss Tibetan autonomy with China".

"Tibetans are not asking for independence or separateness from China. They just want freedom to practise their culture and philosophy," said Kalyan.

"In September I went to India and met the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan administration in exile. I said that it's a disgrace what our government has done last year but I said that I would work to ensure that he gets a visa. We talked about his visit to South Africa and he said he would come here."

Kalyan said that the South African government also needed to be more aware of the "terrible litany of human rights violations happening in Tibet at the moment".

"I want the government not to be so partisan in their dealings regarding this issue. We should mediate between the Dalai Lama and China's representatives," she said.

"China gave the ANC an $80-million donation for its 2009 election campaign and that's why they did not want the Dalai Lama to come into the country. They have an affiliation with China that is based on money."

Xiaomei Zhou, spokesperson at Chinese embassy in Pretoria, said that China had played no role in blocking the Dalai Lama's entry to South Africa.

"We are not putting pressure on the South African government. That's simply rumours. We don't block the Dalai Lama from travelling either. The South African government can decide what it wants to do. We don’t have to do any lobbying," she said.
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