China, South Africa thwart Dalai Lama of chance to attend Mandela funeral
On December 5, South African anti-apartheid hero and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95. He was surrounded by his family at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg.
Mandela’s death was announced on state television by South African president Jacob Zuma. A state funeral, expected to be one of unprecedented proportions, will be held on Sunday, December 15 in Qunu, the small village where Mandela grew up and eventually retired in May 2012.
In the hours and days following Mandela’s passing, world leaders and dignitaries began offering their condolences and gave tributes to his incredible life and legacy.
Shortly after the announcement of Mandela’s departure from this world, US president Barack Obama, in a five-minute speech, remarked: “I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a written statement, shared his sentiments: “With the death of Nelson Mandela, the world has lost one of its great moral leaders and statesmen.”
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, also offered his condolences to Mandela’s family. He described Mandela as a person “of courage, principle and unquestionable integrity, a great human being.” The Dalai Lama, who last met Mandela in 2004, added that he would miss his “dear friend.”
The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is one of only five people ever to have been recognized with Honorary Citizenship by the Governor General of Canada.
But the Dalai Lama did not join the hundreds of other world leaders, royalty and celebrities who visited South Africa this past week to pay their final respects to Nelson Mandela.
Nor will the Tibetan spiritual leader be in attendance at Mandela’s funeral on Sunday, December 15.
Addressing AFP reporters in the Indian hilltop town of Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama resides, his spokesperson Tenzin Takhla briefly replied: “He has no plans to go.”
Although Takhla did not elaborate on why the Dalai Lama would not attend the funeral or memorial services, the reason is obvious to political observers.
In 2011, the Dalai Lama was denied a visa to South Africa after being invited to give a lecture as part of the 80th-birthday celebrations for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, one of Mandela’s fellow anti-apartheid campaigners.
During the 2008 Tibetan unrest, Tutu praised the Dalai Lama, adding that China ought to “listen to [his] pleas for... no further violence.”
However, evidently the Chinese government does not feel threatened by Desmond Tutu as it does by the Dalai Lama.
For years, the Communist government has sought to curb the Dalai Lama’s overseas travels, warning foreign governments that any visit by the spiritual leader could jeopardize their relations with China.
And so on Sunday, when Nelson Mandela is laid to rest, the Dalai Lama will have to pay his remembrances thousands of miles away.
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