The Dalai Lama – A Matter of Principle

Where are the principled voices in the ANC and the alliance in the Dalai Lama episode? Where is the protest at South Africa’s decision to refuse the Dalai Lama’s visa to South Africa? Where are the voices of reason and principle within the ANC and amongst the ANC’s alliance partners, COSATU and the SACP?  Is anyone within the Alliance displaying discomfort with the very questionable decision made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs?

– Judith February –

When a Chinese ship laden with weapons and ammunition destined for Zimbabwe was drifting on South African waters in April last year, COSATU workers refused to unload the vessel. The workers and their union were taking a stand for human rights and against Robert Mugabe’s tyrannical regime. It was months prior to the recall of Thabo Mbeki but after the ANC’s Polokwane conference. The workers’ refusal to unload the vessel left Mbeki somewhat red-faced. It was a small but significant stand by a few against anti-democratic values.

So, one wants to ask; where is the protest now that our government has unashamedly allowed itself to be dictated to by China by refusing the Dalai Lama a visa to South Africa? Where are the voices of reason and principle within the ANC and amongst the ANC’s alliance partners, COSATU and the SACP?  Is there anyone within the Alliance displaying discomfort with the very questionable decision? Instead, it seems as if the government and the ANC will close ranks and ride out the media storm as has become its wont these days.

It would be naïve to deny the Chinese influence across Africa. China has become known as the ‘new colonizer of Africa’ and a major force, unleashed and ready to trade with anyone and everyone. The Olympic Games were proof of China’s newfound assertion, its desperate desire to become ‘part of the world’. The likelihood of it being ignored by South Africa- or any other country for that matter- as a trading partner is zero to none. It has become a powerful global force to be reckoned with and only a very simplistic view of the world would envisage no ties, trade or otherwise, with China. It is also not the first time that the post-apartheid government has preferred ties with China.  But can China’s power mean it should dictate foreign policy? Surely not? It also raises a series of questions which South African citizens would do well to mull over. What is the quid pro quo which China has extracted from the South African government, apart from the opening up of markets? To what extent have we become beholden to the Chinese? More crucially, has the ANC as a party received donations from the Chinese government to fund its 2009 election campaign? We can’t know that given the complete lack of transparency as regards political donations. But the question must be raised. It’s a disappointment that our government has chosen to limit the exchange of
ideas in a manner which can only leave us to question its motives.  

Will the weeks ahead see an outcry from the ANC and its alliance partners? Or will they choose not to interrogate this decision too closely? If not, what does that tell us about the direction of foreign policy in a possible Zuma presidency? Will it be different to the foreign policy espoused in during the Mbeki years or will it instead be a case of the more things change the more they stay the same?

The full article can be seen on the Idasa site here.

This article first appeared in the Cape Times, Thursday, 26th March 2009.

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