The defeat of the brutal apartheid system in South Africa was one of the great victories for human rights in the 20th century. So it was particularly shameful to see South Africa bar the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of the Tibetan people, from visiting the country.
To add more painful irony, the Nobel Prize winner was specifically barred from attending a peace conference to promote the 2010 World Cup and the concept of uniting people through sports.
The South African government gave an absurd reason for the barring: the Dalai Lama would have served as a "distraction" from the topic of the World Cup. In truth, they succumbed to pressure from China, an important trade partner.
South Africans of conscience condemned their country's stance. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and shamed." Tutu and F. W. deKlerk, the country's last white president and the recipient, with Nelson Mandela, of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, vowed to boycott the conference. It seems, in fact, that the conference has been postponed due to the controversy.
Mandla Mandela, Nelson Mandela's grandson called the barring "worrying and saddening" and stated, "Where are we headed in the future? I don't think as a sovereign country we need to succumb to international pressures."
The Chinese have vilified the Dalai Lama for years, calling him a "splittist" and a violent conspirator, even though he has called for "genuine autonomy," not independence, and has always advocated non-violence. Chinese intransigence against this moderate figure, who rejects hatred against China, has caused some younger Tibetans to question whether they should embrace more militant tactics in their struggle.
Regardless, the Chinese insist that other countries cut ties to the Dalai Lama. They warned French President Nicolas Sarkozy not to meet with him in France, calling such a meeting interference in Chinese internal affairs. Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama eventually met in Poland, which angered the Chinese.
So China insists that the French president not meet with the Dalai Lama in France and the South African government bar the Dalai Lama from attending a conference in South Africa. Exactly which country is interfering in the internal affairs of others?
Follow-up: Organizers announced that they have cancelled the peace conference following the South African government's barring of the Dalai Lama from entering the country. In addition to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president F. W. deKlerk, Geir Lundestad, executive director of the Nobel Committee, had also said that he would not attend.