Cape Town, South Africa, October 11, 2011—South African PEN is deeply concerned at the shameful manner in which the South African Government has dealt with an application for a visa to attend the private birthday party of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu by the renowned Tibetan spiritual leader, Nobel peace prize laureate and author, the Dalai Lama. The government’s three month-long dallying over the application under the pretence of “considering” it—a process that normally takes a few days—has now resulted in the Dalai Lama being forced to cancel his trip on the ground that he had not received a visa for travel to South Africa.

South African PEN believes the government’s conduct effectively amounts to a South African—in this instance Desmond Tutu—being denied the enjoyment of the constitutional rights of citizenship, including the right of association with a friend. The government, which constantly claims to uphold the right of its citizens to be treated with dignity and respect, has shown neither to Tutu nor to the Dalai Lama. Its refusal to explain the long delay in considering the application, fobbing off criticism with a bland statement implying that it was normal procedure, emphasises the indignity to which the two men were treated and shows disdain for the South African public’s right to know why such conduct reminiscent of apartheid banning should have been invoked in its name.

South Africa notes that the current Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, is in custody and his wife is under virtual house arrest and that several other writers in China remain in detention. While South Africa’s conduct is far removed from this extreme punishment, the failure to grant the visa timeously suggests that the government shows similar intent to prevent the Dalai Lama from having contact with friends and well-wishers.

There have been suggestions that the Government was influenced by either pressure or other considerations involving its relations with the Chinese government. The Government has denied this but South African PEN believes that it would be totally unacceptable for the government to be influenced in that way in regard to the issue of visas. The relations of South Africa with other governments and foreign entities should be dealt with in terms of constitutional values and the country’s principled best interests.

Signed by,

Anthony Fleischer, South African PEN President
Margie Orford, South African PEN Executive Vice-President
Raymond Louw, South African PEN Vice-President