The organizers of a South African conference aimed at promoting soccer as a tool for peace have postponed the gathering after South African officials refused to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to attend the event. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our bureau in Johannesburg.
An initiative of South Africa's FIFA 2010 World Cup local organizing committee (LOC), the South African Peace Conference was planned to focus on the power of soccer to generate peace in the face of racism and xenophobia.
The committee had won the support of South Africa's Nobel Peace laureates, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and F.W. de Klerk for their initiative. They in turn invited the Dalai Lama, along with the Nobel Peace Committee, and other dignitaries to attend the conference.
Now, the chairman of the organizing committee, Irvin Khoza says the refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama to attend the conference has placed the conveners in an untenable position, leaving them no choice but to postpone the conference.
"Given that the purpose of the conference is peace, the conveners do not wish to put the Nobel Peace Committee under circumstances that would create conflict between the committee and its laureates. The conveners have therefore decided in a spirit of peace, to postpone the South Africa Peace Conference to ensure it is held under conducive conditions."
The postponement follows decisions by Archbishop Tutu and Mr. de Klerk to withdraw from the conference. Mr. Mandela was not slated to attend. Tutu said the refusal to grant the visa was disgraceful adding that South Africa is shamelessly succumbing to pressure from China.
South African government spokesperson Themba Masebe said the decision had nothing to do with the Chinese government. Instead, he said, the government did not want Tibet to overshadow a 2010 World Cup event. Masebe's statement appeared to contradict a Chinese Embassy official in Pretoria, who told local newspapers the Chinese government had asked South Africa to refuse the visa.
South Africa accounts for twenty percent of China's trade in Africa and last year the ruling parties of the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding without revealing its contents.
The respected local weekly newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, last week reported that the Chinese Communist Party is providing campaign funds to the African National Congress. In an online report, the paper said the party was also getting campaign funds from the ruling parties in India, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea.