Finance Minister Trevor Manuel's comments on the Dalai Lama's visit (see here) were profoundly disturbing. Here is an intelligent man, one of the brightest minds and otherwise most responsible members of our leadership, sprouting an entirely erred view on the Dalai Lama's apparent sole agenda for coming to South Africa.
Let's take a step back to consider the following: It is not too far-fetched to liken the Dalai Lama to Nelson Mandela. They share many similar character traits, elements that have raised them to the stature of elder statesmen and peacemakers, both Nobel Peace Laureates, both deeply humble, both immensely effective in expressing their moral authority, both totally committed to the cause of the freedom of their people. And they happen to really like one another, which says something.
Consider the period when, as a freedom fighter, Mandela was traveling internationally garnering support for our liberation struggle. What would we have thought had the US or Germany or Holland or Japan denied him entry to their country because they were trading with the White South African government? We would have balked at the sheer cruelty of it all.
Even though the Dalai Lama's invitation for this visit may have been to come here to speak about peace in general terms at the conference - and not only to try and split the Chinese Motherland as Manuel suggests - the question for us is How dare we stop him speaking about Tibet anyway? What gives us the right to hold the Tibetan people's future in the balance, when we called on the world to help us, for decades, and ultimately received assistance from every quarter which resulted in our eventual liberation?
The Chinese have brutalised the Tibetan nation on a scale that equals the worst the world has seen and is currently experiencing. It easily matches the darkest times in the Middle East, Bosnia and Darfur. The death toll since the Chinese invasion of Tibet is well over a million people. Over a million lives! I have been to Tibet and witnessed firsthand the savagery of the Chinese soldiers' treatment of Tibetans. On one occasion I saw two uniformed Chinese men beating an elderly Tibetan lady with batons, openly in the streets of Lhasa. It was one of the most distressing moments of my life. The barbarity was tangible. (View the recent Chinese response to protesters inside Tibet below)
Of course, should the Chinese ever see this letter, they would either tell me that I was lying, was mistaken at what I saw, or that it was Tibetans dressed as Chinese soldiers pretending to beat another Tibetan in order to give China a bad name in the West. It is one thing for the rudimentary Chinese propaganda to work on an already suppressed Chinese populace, but I find it fascinating that the same simplistic rationale has any actual impact on sophisticated thinkers like Manuel. To quote your article, Manuel said "The reason the Dalai Lama wants to visit South Africa 'is to make a big global, political statement about the secession of Tibet from China.'" Can he hear himself? Does he really believe this?
What has happened to us? How much are we actually getting from the Chinese - what are we talking here, R10 billion? R30 billion? R80 billion? I'd really like to get a sense of the numbers surrounding the buyout of the ANC's soul.
Whatever the deal on the table, the hypocrisy is untenable. We have no right, no right at all to stop the Dalai Lama speaking on behalf of his country. Issues of independence or autonomy or self-rule aside, the Chinese treatment of the Tibetans has to stop. And we were the one example of a nation freed from bondage, a beacon of hope for the Tibetans. Our rejection is an insult to injury.
Finally, the ultimate irony surrounding all of this is the continued promise of economic development through bilateral relations with China. This, at a time when the world is on the brink of financial collapse, which has come about from much the same misconceptions about economic prosperity sans the grounding of a rooted value system. While the Dalai Lama may only have the 'value system' part on his side, it seems that money continues to be able to buy pretty much anything else, even in these precarious days. We have taken out a big loan on our delusions, and sooner or later it will have to be paid back. Bankruptcy for humanity is simply not an option.
Here's to freedom.
Guy Lieberman has served as local liaison for the visits of HH the Dalai Lama to South Africa, and between 1995 and 2000 was a full time activist for the Tibetan freedom movement. See picture below.
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Nelson Mandela, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Qhuzulini Sithole, Chairman of the African Cultural Heritage Trust, and Guy Lieberman, during the Dalai Lama's most recent visit in 2004. Photo: Eytan Nafte