Lunch Meeting With "The South African Friends Of Tibet"
And Selected Representatives Of The Media
 Remarks By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP

   

 

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 internal democratization.

 

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 democratization.

 

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 like-mindedness.

 

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 Human Rights.

 

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 effort.

 

 

Contact: Lyndith Waller 073 929 1418