|Al Jazeera's Caroline Malone reports on the monk protests against Beijing's rule of Tibet
South Africa's inordinate delay in granting the Dalai Lama a visitor's visa has triggered speculations that Beijing is pressuring Pretoria to block the Tibetan spiritual leader's visit.
Dalai Lama intends to visit South Africa to attend the 80th birthday of his friend and fellow Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Clayson Monyela, spokesman for South Africa's foreign affairs department, denied there was any pressure to block the Dalai Lama's visit.
He told Al Jazeera that South African officials had only received a complete visa application on September 20 and it was now being "subjected to the normal visa application processes".
"Once the application is processed, the decision will be communicated to the applicant, not the media," Monyela said.
The South African High Commission in New Delhi, India, where the application was made, usually issues tourist visas within seven days.
The government denial has, however, failed to quell speculations. In fact, they were fuelled further after Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa's deputy president, left for China on a state visit on Monday.
The government's account has also been disputed by Sonam Tenzing, the Dalai Lama's representative for Africa.
He said the visa application was made on August 29, including a photocopy of the Dalai Lama's passport since he was travelling to Latin America. But Monyela maintained that the application was incomplete until they received the passport itself.
Commentators argue that tensions over the Dalai Lama's visa application to South Africa are also a sign of how powerful China's influence has grown in Africa.
South African newspapers are already drawing parallels between the situations of Tibetans under Chinese rule and black South Africans under the racist apartheid regime that ended in 1994.
"Our leadership has a clear choice: to look deep into the African soul and emulate [Nelson] Mandela's actions by extending a hand of friendship, while at the same time understanding that it won't, in fact, have any real
impact on our relations with China,'' said an editorial in the Daily Maverick.
|Dalai Lama intends to visit South Africa to attend 80th birthday celebration of Desmond Tutu [AFP]
"Or, once again to yield as the people who will submit to the will of another nation, to constrict our spirit and our standing as a moral society, and close our doors on a genuine man of peace and the justified hopes of his
The Dalai Lama is to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace lecture, titled "Peace and compassion as catalyst for change,'' as part of the October 6-8 birthday celebrations for Tutu.
The centre that invited the Dalai Lama says he first tried to apply for a visa in June but was told it was too far ahead of his trip. Later South African officials said they could not process the visa with a photocopied passport of the Buddhist icon and had to wait for him to submit his original document.
"We've sent letters, following up on a daily basis with phone calls and still are in a situation where there is no response and it's getting us muchmore anxious,'' Nomfundo Wazala, CEO of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre that has invited the Dalai Lama to South Africa, said.
"We have been patient, but we really feel at this point in time we deserve an answer.''
The Dalai Lama fled the Himalayan region in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule and is reviled by Beijing as a separatist. China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries.
The 76-year-old leader insists he is only seeking increased autonomy for Tibet, not independence. He gave up his political role in the Tibetan exile movement in March, but he remains its spiritual head, beloved by Buddhists around the world.
The Dalai Lama was welcomed to South Africa on his first visit in 1996 and had a memorable visit with the country's first black and democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela.
But in 2009, the South African government outraged many by banning the Dalai Lama from attending a Nobel laureates' peace conference, saying it would detract attention from the 2010 football World Cup.
Tutu, revered for the part he played to end apartheid, called it "disgraceful'' and accused the government of "shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure'', a charge officials denied.
Monyela, spokesperson for South Africa's foreign affairs department, denied that the Tibetan leader had ever been blocked from entering the country, arguing that the event "the Dalai Lama had been invited for had been cancelled" making the visa application null and void.
China-Africa expert Martyn Davies said China's concern seemed to be over Dalai Lama's meetings with high-ranking South African officials.
"If the Dalai Lama does come to South Africa, I do not see any reason for the Dalai Lama to meet with President [Jacob] Zuma or any other South African government official. He is a religious figure but with an overly politicised persona,'' Davies said by email from Beijing.