Marks Building, Parliament: 14 September 2010
We are meeting today as friends, and as friends on many
levels. First and foremost, we are friends of democracy. Secondly,
we are friends of Tibet. Thirdly, we are friends in politics. And
last, but not least, we are friends of China.
It may be seen as contradictory to mention our
friendship with China as we meet as friends of Tibet. However, the
fact of the matter is that the issue of Tibet has now become central
to the democratization of China.
The Tibetan Government-in-Exile is asking nothing
more and nothing less than religious freedom for its people, and
local autonomy, both of which are part of the tenets of democracy
and are essential to pushing China forward in its process of
The issue of Tibet is becoming quintessential to
the process of democratization in China. We appreciate the ever more
important role China is playing internationally and in the
political, social and economic arenas. For this reason, we feel that
the cause of mankind demands of it to move speedily towards its
I have had the privilege of participating in
several World Congresses of Parliamentarians on Tibet, including the
one held in Edinburgh in 2005 and the one held in Rome last year,
which I attended together with the Leader of the Opposition.
The one in Rome produced a declaration, known as
the Rome Declaration, which makes it clear that our commitment in
the advocacy of the rights and freedoms of Tibet is not meant to be
antagonistic towards China, but has the purpose of also promoting
China's democratic growth.
As you all know, I have had a personal
relationship with the Dalai Lama for many years. I consider him a
personal friend and I was very pleased when my colleague, Dr
Ambrosini, conveyed to me the Dalai Lama's good wishes, referring to
me as one of his best friends.
You know that, on account of this friendship, I
took it upon myself to challenge in court a decision of the South
African Government which barred the Dalai Lama from entry into South
Africa in May last year. In spite of the domestic and international
outcry against such a decision, 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.
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.
We are convened here today because the recent
celebration of fifty years of Tibetan democracy-in-exile prompts us
once again to the urgency of making a statement about Tibet. There
is something magical about Tibet which brings people together from
different walks of life in the recognition that they share
During the Rome Congress, the Dalai Lama pointed
out that no one has anything to gain politically from promoting the
Tibetan issue. That is true, and in that lies the beauty of us all
being here today. The cause of Tibet is a matter of principle. It is
not a vote catcher, or advancement in any popularity contest.
Throughout my life I have paid huge prices, both at a personal and
political level, to stand by principle and do and say what is right,
irrespective of consequences. Now that I am 82, I am not going to change my
tune, nor my ways.
During the Rome Congress, the Dalai Lama and his
Government-in-Exile placed their demands in a concrete mould which
makes them immensely reasonable. Many years ago they abandoned the
fight for an independent Tibet and accepted that Tibet is now part
of China, moving their struggle only to achieving a limited measure
of autonomy, and recognition and protection of those rights declared
fundamental and inalienable by the United Nations' Declaration of
However, during the Rome Congress, the Dalai Lama
and his Government went one step further, clarifying that the type
of limited autonomy they seek is exactly that granted by Italy to
the German speaking province of Trentino Alto Adige, which is an
autonomous province operating under an autonomous constitution.
Because of it, there are no longer any grounds for China to refuse
to engage the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in good faith negotiations
around such limited and reasonable demands.
We are here today also for another reason, which
goes beyond Tibet and China and relates to us as South Africans. Too
often there is a sense that we should depart from our principles and
be flexible in our values because of expedience and convenience, and
the deference to China is tragically becoming a case in point,
because China has indeed become one our major trading partners.
However, a democracy, and indeed the very spirit of a people, begins
to wither away when one departs from principles and values on
account of fear, interests or prejudice.
We are here today also to use the Tibetan case as
an occasion in which we wish to reaffirm that we shall not allow, on
this or on any other occasion, any departure from those fundamental
values and principles which inspired our struggle for liberation and
on which our Republic was forged and founded. In that sense, the
cause of Tibet is one of the litmus tests on which the health of our
democracy can be assessed.
If we cannot find within ourselves the courage to
speak up against the atrocities committed against the Tibetan people
and in favour of the autonomy of Tibet, then we must accept that our
own democratic life is seriously ailing.
For this reason, my Party is more than happy to
join hands with all the other principled parties and leaders which,
this afternoon, will use any opportunity available in Parliament to
make sure that the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of
Tibetan democracy-in-exile will not go unnoticed within South Africa
and within the world.
We know that similar initiatives are being planned
in the European Parliament and in the parliaments of Italy, Germany,
Croatia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and many other
parliaments, within the forthcoming days. We can take pride in being
the first, and leading the way in this international democratic
Contact: Lyndith Waller 073 929 1418