His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nomalizo Leah Tutu at a public felicitation ceremony in Dharamshala, north India on February 10, 2012. (Phayul file/Norbu Wangyal)
DHARAMSHALA, November 30: A court in South Africa on Thursday ruled that government officials "unreasonably delayed" a decision whether to grant Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama a visa last year, largely out of fears of angering the Chinese government.
The Supreme Court of Appeal's decision heavily criticised former Protease Home Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for her role in the issue, which caused much public outrage and embarrassment to her government.
The Dalai Lama was invited to attend fellow Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations in October 2011, but had to call off his trip at the eleventh hour after repeated visa delays.
Although the South African government denied that it had buckled under pressure from its major trading partner, China, to block the trip, the court ruling raised embarrassing questions about political influence over the country’s immigration service’s decisions.
"What is justified by the evidence is an inference that the matter was deliberately delayed so as to avoid a decision," reads the ruling by Judge R W Nugent.
"It hardly needs saying that the minister is not entitled to deliberately procrastinate. Procrastination by itself establishes unreasonable delay."
Archbishop Tutu's office hailed the court’s ruling as a "credit to South Africa's judicial system" and said he looked forward to inviting the Dalai Lama to South Africa for his 90th birthday.
The South African government’s visa tarrying last year had sparked an outrage with citizens and leaders blasting their government for buckling under China’s pressure.
Archbishop Tutu had criticised his government for kowtowing to Chinese pressure calling it “worse than the apartheid government.”
In August 2011, South Africa’s Ministry of Home Affairs had admitted
that “the Dalai Lama's visa issue is not only administrative but political and diplomatic in nature.”
Ronnie Manoepa, spokesman of the Ministry, while confirming receiving the Dalai Lama's visa application on August 2, about two months ahead of the planned visit, had said his office needed to “take advice from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation,” signalling outside pressure on the visa issue.
In December 2011, the Ministry admitted that it feared of a backlash from China
if they allowed the Dalai Lama to visit and suggested in court papers that the Tibetan spiritual leader won't be granted a visa to visit South Africa in the near future.
While replying to affidavits filed by two South African politicians, home affairs director general Mkhuseli Apleni said the department had to consider South Africa's relations with China and the “impact the Dalai Lama's visa application would have had on trade and foreign relations."
The Dalai Lama had earlier expressed strong desire to meet Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black and democratically elected president, whom he first met in 1996 in South Africa.