Thursday, 26 March 2009

South Africa: University of Witwatersrand reacts to Dalai Lama decision

It has been a long time since my alma mater, University of Witwatersrand, has said or done anything that has instilled respect in me but I was sufficiently impressed by this letter to post it in its entirety.  The emphasis in the second last paragraph is mine and communicates more eloquently what I was trying to say in my previous post on the matter.

Dear Wits alumnus/alumna

His Holiness the Dalai Lama was scheduled to deliver a public lecture at Wits University on Saturday, 28 March 2009. This event has been cancelled due to the South African government not granting a visa to the Dalai Lama. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Loyiso Nongxa, has issued the following statement on behalf of the University.  


Wits University expresses its profound dismay at the decision taken by the South African government not to grant a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to attend a Peace Conference in South Africa along with other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.

The University does not accept the rationale offered by the South African government to bar this stalwart of peace from entering the country. The decision of the government ridicules the values enshrined in our Constitution, and the freedoms for which so many South African have lived, and indeed died.

The Dalai Lama was scheduled to deliver a public address at Wits University on Saturday, 28 March 2009, following on a similar lecture that he delivered to a full capacity audience at Wits during his last visit to the country. To have the voice of the Dalai Lama silenced at both the Peace Conference and the Wits Public Lecture is a setback to the principle that rigorous intellectual debate and reflection is central to the defence of democracy. As part of its commitment to being a publicly engaged institution, Wits hosts numerous public engagement activities and provides an intellectual platform for robust debate. We believe that making differing perspectives and views accessible to our community is a vital part of sustaining and defending the constitutional values that we express as a country.

No country in the world has produced as many Peace Prize Laureates as South Africa, a testament both to the struggles that we have waged in this country for the principles of human rights, as well as to the great stature of the South Africans who have found transcendent ways of expressing the struggle for freedom. It is with this tradition in mind that we view the exclusion of the Dalai Lama from our shores with grave misgivings. This betrayal of a key constitutional value provides a clear window into the fragility of the democracy we are trying to sustain.

It is our responsibility as a University to express our concern at this development. Wits University takes this opportunity to strongly condemn the action of the South African government in denying His Holiness the Dalai Lama access to South Africa. We add our voice to that of other leaders, calling on the South African government to apologise to the nation for this oversight. It is a betrayal of everything that we, as South Africans, fought against during the apartheid regime and a gross violation of the values we espouse as a nation.   

Prof. Loyiso Nongxa

Vice-Chancellor and Principal
Wits University

25 March 2009

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