29 March 2009

South Africa: Dalai Lama Ban - 'Dlamini-Zuma Did It'

Cape Town — The split in government over the decision to bar the Dalai Lama is widening as claims of cabinet backing for the move have been denied and ministerial opposition to the ban strengthens.

It has been revealed that the decision to prevent the Tibetan spiritual leader from entering the country was taken by Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and not the cabinet as claimed by her and other government figures.

And another cabinet minister has privately announced his support for Health Minister Barbara Hogan's stance to defy the decision.

The senior minister has privately notified the Foreign Affairs ministry that he did not agree with the decision to prevent the Tibetan spiritual leader from attending the peace conference.

"(The minister) called (the ministry) to complain about the decision. Don't forget that the decision was not communicated to ministers, it was a line function decision by (Dlamini-Zuma) and not a cabinet decision," an official close to the saga said.

He said that he could not be openly quoted because of "the official policy on the matter".

Even though the move to prevent the exiled Tibetan from attending a peace conference was not a cabinet decision, government spokesman Themba Maseko created a different impression earlier this week when he claimed that Hogan had defied a "collective" decision.

"The cabinet's position is that we do not want the 2010 World Cup to be used as a platform to advance the political causes of various groups," Maseko said last week.

But he changed his tune on Friday and admitted that the decision had been taken by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"It's a government decision, not a cabinet decision. Decisions of visas don't require cabinet approval," he said.

When pressed to state explicitly whether Dlamini-Zuma had taken the decision, he replied: "It was taken by the government."

Dlamini-Zuma's spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, has dismissed suggestions that the decision was made by his boss. "It was a decision taken by government," he said.

But a diplomatic official who understands the government decision-making process, said that it had been the minister's decision.

Hogan's opposition to the ban on the Dalai Lama was met with alarm in the government and the ANC, with party national executive committee member Enoch Godongwana challenging her to resign.

Dlamini-Zuma and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel have defended the decision to deny the Dalai-Lama a visa, with Manuel questioning the Tibetan's credentials.

Meanwhile, it was claimed that the decision to ban the Dalai Lama was made after intelligence reports indicated that he had planned to use the visit as a launching pad for his "return to Tibet" campaign.

Government sources said that the Dalai Lama's supporters had planned to stage protests against the Chinese government - causing a diplomatic headache for the country with the Chinese, who have invested R60 billion in the country.

Another official source said the spiritual leader would have used the platform to highlight and mark 50 years of a failed uprising against China.

However, organisations sympathetic to the spiritual leader denied that they had been planning to hijack the programme to highlight the exiled priest's cause.

"There were no protests planned," said Chris Kudla, of the Tibet Society of South Africa.

Mamoepa said the Dalai Lama was welcome to visit South Africa, but "not now".

Meanwhile, IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi announced on Friday his intention to challenge the visa decision in court.

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