Sonke Gender Justice was looking forward to hosting four women Nobel Peace Laureates in Cape Town next month during the World Summit of Nobel Laureates, but they are no longer coming to South Africa.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Gbowee and a representative of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) cancelled their planned visit after South Africa’s refusal (once again) to issue a visa to Nobel Peace Laureate His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the upcoming summit, and China’s public declaration thanking South Africa for blocking the spiritual leader from entering South Africa.
This is the third time in five years that South Africa has failed to grant the Dalai Lama a visa. Two years ago, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the government “deliberately delayed” a decision to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to attend friend and fellow Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebration, among other events. Instead of blatantly refusing the visa applications and facing the anticipated public outcry, the government’s tactic seems to be to delay granting the visa until such time that the Dalai Lama cancels his trip. This time, an aide to the Dalai Lama told reporters that the Tibetan spiritual leader cancelled his trip after he was denied a visa. China then went so far as to publicly thank South Africa for its support and praise its “correct position” on the visa request.
To repeatedly shut out this humanitarian, Nobel Laureate, spiritual leader, man of peace, global icon, and friend to many South African leaders including our own Nobel Peace Laureates (Archbishop Tutu and the late Nelson Mandela) and instead bow to the pressure of trade partner China (which has an appalling human rights record) does not serve, reflect or speak to South Africa’s own struggle history of fighting against oppression and for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.
Blocking the Dalai Lama from coming to South Africa prevents many thousands of South Africans from interacting with their spiritual leader, and has many other negative consequences including dissuading other leaders and inspirational figures (such as these four Laureates) from coming here. Fourteen Nobel Laureates appealed to South Africa’s President Zuma to grant the Dalai Lama a visa after he cancelled this trip, writing “we are deeply concerned about the damage that will be done to South Africa’s international image by a refusal – or failure – to grant him a visa yet again.”
Sonke has a close working relationship with the Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI) in their capacity as convenors of the Global Campaign to Stop Rape in Conflict and we were to convene a speaking event with Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee next month in Cape Town to discuss gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa and strategies to combat gender inequality and violence against women, particularly our campaign to establish a national strategic plan against GBV in South Africa. These women have been tireless advocates for women’s rights and a world free from violence against women.
The NWI says that “the Dalai Lama advocates a nonviolent, negotiated solution to the Tibet problem – what he calls ‘the Middle-Way Approach’ – and is calling for real autonomy for Tibet under Chinese sovereignty. China has questioned his claims that he does not seek independence, and exerts political pressure on India…and other countries to limit the Dalai Lama’s freedom of travel and access to political leaders.”
Sonke applauds these women Laureates who have cancelled their trip to South Africa for the global Nobel summit, as – unlike the South African government – they are sending the right message on human rights. Sonke believes that South Africa should be embracing human rights and peaceful leadership and should reflect our own history by sending the right message on peace, reconciliation and freedom to the world.
Archbishop Tutu has called this repeated failure to grant the Dalai Lama a visa “a total betrayal of our struggle history.” We agree.