New Internationalist

China cements its control over South Africa

The decision by the ANC-led South African Government to refuse entry to the Dalai Lama to attend a peace conference is more evidence of the country's movement away from its origins in the struggle against the injustices of apartheid and the rebuilding of a nation dedicated to upholding human rights principles. The Dalai Lama was due to attend a peace conference in Johannesburg organised to promote the 2010 World Cup. The peace conference has since been cancelled and Archbishop Desmond Tutu has condemned the actions. The South African Government has given various and often contradictory reasons for refusing entry to the Dalai Lama.


'As far as the South African Government is concerned, no invitation was extended to the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa,' explained foreign affairs minister Ronnie Mamoepa. 'So therefore the question of the visas doesn't exist. This is an independent, sovereign decision. I am not aware of any approach by the Chinese.'


Government spokesperson Thabo Masebe later changed this line to:


'We want the focus to remain on South Africa. A visit by the Dalai Lama would move the focus from South Africa on to issues in Tibet.' 


The insistence by the South African Government that they have not bowed to pressure by the Chinese is unbelievable and in fact contradicted in the following statement by the country's foreign minister, Yang Jiech:


'In developing relations with China, other countries should not allow the Dalai Lama to visit their countries and should not allow their territories to be used for the Dalai Lama to engage in separatist activities for Tibet's independence. I think this is an integral part of the norms governing international relations.' 


The South African Communist Party (SACP) joined in the debate by supporting the Government's position, claiming that the visit would 'polarize' thousands of football supporters and that it was hypocritical of foreign governments to criticize South Africa for their actions. 


'We are opposed to this political sleight of hand to pressure our Government into active interference in China's internal affairs and polarize millions of 2010 World Cup supporters along political lines, the majority of whom, in more than 100 nations, support China's sovereignty over Tibet. The whole scheme smacks of hypocrisy and must be denounced.


We congratulate our Government's vigilance and asserting the full responsibility to articulate an independent and sovereign position on foreign policy matters including reaffirming its complete support of the One-China-two systems policy.'


This pathetic and despicable response by the SACP is the real hypocrisy. Is it so long ago that the SACP and the ANC have forgotten the struggle against the apartheid regime. A struggle against an occupation which dehumanized and refused even the most basic of rights to the majority of the country's population.  As one blogger, Accidental Academic, pointed out, this is not just about the Dalai Lama, whom he disdainfully describes as an 'impotent holy man' and 'jet setting freedom-fighter' but more about the South African Government's policy of giving priority to commerce and finance over oppressed peoples....


'In fact, disallowing the Dalai Lama to participate in the conference hardly belittles the Tibetan movement, hardly trims the wings of a movement that hasn't flapped in years. The decision therefore only serves as to further taint South Africa as a country that considers flaky trade to be more important than giving a voice to the oppressed. So what if we have $10 billion worth of trade with the Chinese? Will they really pull out because we allowed an impotent holy man to speak?'


He goes on to list a number of previous actions by the South African Government which together presents a Government apparently systematically supporting dictatorships and repressive regimes such as those in Zimbabwe and Burma. We can add to this the Government's silence over Sudan and Darfur, asylum to Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam and now bowing to China's oppression of the people of Tibet. Add to this the country's recent refusal to support decriminalization of homosexuality and one begins to see the potential making of a post-apartheid repressive and counter-revolutionary ruling party. 


Another interesting point in the context of the Dalai's non-visit is that although South Africa has $10 billion worth of trade with China, its trade and commercial interests in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent has led to the demise of a large section of the manufacturing industry because the markets have been flooded with cheap goods from abroad.


I have for sometime been sceptical of the Dalai Lama and have a tendency to agree with the cynicism expressed by the Accidental Academic on the jetsetting, head-bowing, hands-clasping man of peace who seems to have achieved nothing in the 60 years since his 'escape' from Tibet. Nonetheless this isn't really the point. On the contrary, the peace conference has been cancelled and ironically for the South African Government, the focus of attention has not been on the 2010 Soccer World Cup but on Tibet, the Dalai Lama and, more to the point, South Africa's tendency to support oppressive regimes and prioritise commerce over people's rights.

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