Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
In my office in Parliament is a framed photograph capturing one of my meetings with the Dalai Lama. Our hands are clasped in greeting and our expressions portray the depth of admiration and respect we have for one another. I am privileged to count the Dalai Lama among my friends, and grateful that he speaks of me in the same way.
Our friendship is based on a mutual appreciation for what I deem the inalienable right of a people to express their identity, and to have that identity recognized. It is popularly believed that the Tibetan cause is a struggle for independence from China, and the truth is lost in the complexities of the issue.
But on 25 June 2009, the Chinese political commentator, Wang Lixiong, met with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala and Wang later recounted their conversation in a broadcast on Radio Free Asia. He quoted this statement by the Dalai Lama –
"Frankly speaking, I’m not actually seeking independence. It’s not that I’m against it, or that there’s no way of expressing its acceptability, but from the point of view of benefits to Tibet, non-independence is beneficial to Tibet. Spiritually, Tibet is very rich, but it is relatively lacking materially. Staying within China would I think be beneficial to raising the levels of Tibet’s material construction and the material lives of the Tibetan people. I have expressed this point before."
The fact is that the Tibetan Government-in-Exile has long since abandoned the fight for an independent Tibet and accepted that Tibet is now part of China. What they are struggling to achieve is a limited measure of autonomy, and recognition and protection of those rights declared fundamental and inalienable by the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights.
I raise this point because this month Tibet celebrated 50 years of democracy-in-exile. The Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile invited me to attend the celebrations in Bangalore, South India, and I was saddened that I could not attend. Nevertheless, I sent a representative from my Party to convey our support and good wishes.
To me it is clear that the Tibetan issue is intrinsic to the democratization of China. In fact this was emphasized in the Rome Declaration which emerged from the last Congress of World Parliamentarians on Tibet in November 2009, which I participated in, as I have done with previous Congresses.
But standing in support of Tibet is controversial and has not earned me any popularity. For most politicians, it is an issue to steer clear of.
Because of its massive indebtedness to China, the United States has reduced its pressure towards Chinese democratization. I was pleased that, during his visit to China, President Obama stated that the Tibetan issue could not be taken off the agenda as Beijing had asked.
Both the United States and Europe have had difficulties in pressurizing China to recognize autonomy for the various provinces which are autonomous in name but which enjoy no self-governance to accommodate the special needs of their various ethnic and religious minorities.
The stand I have taken in support of Tibet is not antagonistic towards China. It is indeed in support of China’s own path of democratization.
Our own Government seems to lack an understanding of this issue, or is perhaps still too afraid to speak on it at all, for fear of offending one of South Africa’s largest economic partners.
That is the only conclusion to be drawn from the fact that South Africa barred entry to the Dalai Lama in May last year when he intended to visit as part of the preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In spite of the domestic and international outcry, none of our Chapter 9 institutions, including the Public Protector and the Human Rights Commission, lifted a finger to protect the rights of free speech and association which were so blatantly violated. I therefore took it upon myself to challenge the Government’s decision in court.
It was very saddening that both the High Court of Cape Town and the Constitutional Court resorted to unprecedented and legally questionable technicalities to refuse entry into the merits of the case, thereby leaving the decision to bar entry to the Dalai Lama without any form of appeal or check and balance. But I somehow could not be surprised.
Our Government’s reluctance to weigh in on this subject was again demonstrated in the National Assembly this week. On Tuesday, I hosted a lunch in Parliament with representatives of the South African Friends of Tibet, to which we invited members of the media and several MPs from opposition parties. I knew that I had the support of the DA, as Mr Athol Trollip was with me in Rome last year when we signed the Rome Declaration and committed ourselves to promoting the cause of Tibet.
During the parliamentary sitting which followed our lunch, we gave a clear demonstration in support of Tibet. Fifteen MPs from five different political parties made statements and moved motions calling for freedom in Tibet and the democratization of China. In the gallery, some 350 members of the public attended to signify their support. And more than 100 MPs wore white Tibetan scarves.
Yet, none of the 21 members of the Executive present in the house at the time spoke a single word in response to all this. Their silence was deafening. At times it is not what we say that expresses where we stand, but what we do not say. I would wish to see South Africa speaking up on the Sino-Chinese debate. I believe we have a duty both as champions of democracy and friends of China, to pursue democratization in one of the world’s greatest nations.
A Tibetan poet by the name of Ombar penned the following haunting words:
"One life, two lives, three lives. One hundred lives Incessantly lost and are losing. Therefore we should lament, we should commemorate. Within the crevices of history we should never forget"
Let us never forget our own path to democracy and the many lives that were laid down for this cause. Surely we as a country have something to say.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Media & Research Assistant
Tel: 021 403 3226 Fax: 021 461 9317 [email protected]