They’re quite correct, aren’t they?

Yes. De jure they did not reject his application, but …

He withdrew it before they could. Why?

Because we were requested directly by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to withdraw it.

Why didn’t he wait for it to be rejected or accepted, like everybody else?

Because the Dalai Lama will do whatever he can to not cause any embarrassment to the government of the host country. The request was direct and clear and he knew he was not welcome.

So he made it easy for them?

He had no intention to make it difficult for the government. He thinks a bit differently to the norm.

So he allowed the government to win?

In terms of public perception the government lost. 

The bottom line is that the government can now stand up as it has and tell the world “we did not reject his application“. And they’re correct, they didn’t?

The fact is that I was present when they asked him to withdraw. Once people understand that, then they realise that the government’s claim is disingenuous.

Why absolve the government from having to make this decision?

Because I think he understands the complexity for the South African government. He’s saying, if I’m not welcome there’s no reason to push it. I’m not welcome, I’ll step back.

Is this what he would have had Senator Robert Kennedy say when he came to South Africa in the 1960s in the teeth of strong government hostility? Would he have said, “the apartheid government does not welcome your visit, so don’t go”?

In much of the world, the apartheid government was seen as illegitimate and Robert Kennedy coming from a superpower was trying to force the issue. The ANC is not an illegitimate government, so it’s a different scenario entirely.

You’ve said his philosophy is that it is no use making people angry?


Isn’t that precisely the government’s argument? That it’s no use making China angry?

That might be, but it depends on the context. In this case, China gets angry at the drop of a hat and is also bullying the government’s approach to foreign policy. If China says, don’t do this, don’t do that, where is South Africa’s sovereignty?

If he really didn’t want to embarrass the government, wouldn’t he have sounded it out before accepting the invitation and then told the organisers that if they wanted him, they’d have to hold it somewhere elsewhere?

The invitation came from the Nobel Peace Summit, and on the merits of the invitation the Dalai Lama agreed to come. He’s not going to make assumptions. Bearing in mind that on both previous occasions they de facto rejected his visa. They said now is not a good time. In 2009, they said let’s do it after the World Cup. In 2011, they didn’t say anything, they just said it’s in process — the day before he was due to come.

So he must have had a good idea how it would play out this time. So isn’t he being disingenuous when he says he doesn’t want to embarrass the government? Because that is exactly what he did.

The government has not been embarrassed because of what the Dalai Lama did. It has been embarrassed because of what the government did.

But he must have foreseen this would happen?

But he can’t take responsibility for that. Why would he go to the Nobels and say, “I’ll come, but only if we have the event somewhere else”? All he did was accept the invitation. He’s not going to make any further assumptions. The possibility that there will be a visa issue, well, there’s always hope.

Not if you’re going to withdraw your application?

I’m talking about when he accepted the invitation. There’s always hope that the visa will be approved. He’s invited, he accepts. He’s requested to withdraw, he withdraws.

Because he says he wants to save the government from embarrassment. But he didn’t, did he?

That was not his action.

If the government was going to be embarrassed anyway, why didn’t he press on with his application?

Because, again …

The government asked him not to?

Yes. Are you with me?

Doesn’t he believe that sometimes immoral decisions have to be challenged?

He perceives himself in this scenario as a guest. If the door to the guest is closed he’s not going to stand there banging on the door.

He knew the door would be closed, so why did he approach it if he wasn’t going to bang on it?

Because he was invited by the Nobel summit.

In this case, China gets angry at the drop of a hat and is also bullying the government’s approach to foreign policy. If China says, don’t do this, don’t do that, where is South Africa’s sovereignty?


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