Redi Direko

While presenting my radio show recently, I received an SMS from a listener called Dumisani who asked: "Why must we compromise our investments in South Africa for the Dalalalami or whatever the hell his name is?"

To answer this question, I'd like to borrow from US Senator John Thune. Whether or not the US lives up to these ideals is not the issue, but his words should resonate with all those who love their country. He said: "I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognised symbol that stands for liberty and freedom. It is the history of our nation and it's marked by the blood of those who died defending it."

So why should we care that the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader has been denied entry into our shores? Because this unfortunate affair has less to do with the Dalai Lama and more with our character and DNA make-up as a nation. It has to do with the pulse of this nation and what makes us tick as South Africans.

The government's woeful insistence that the Dalai Lama's presence at the conference would detract from its theme should not go unchallenged.

Pretoria went further and declared he would not even be allowed to visit South Africa before the 2010 World Cup. And our government thinks so little of our intelligence that it sells us a trumped-up story that this pitiful decision was made by South Africa alone, without pressure from China.

Let's keep in mind that there was a meeting between the Chinese embassy and our government before this decision. The Chinese were so grateful that we compromised our principles that they thanked us for it.

China's minister counsellor in Pretoria, Dai Bing, was quoted as saying his government had urged South Africa to deny the visa or risk damaging bilateral relations. In light of this, Thabo Masebe's insistence that the decision was made without any pressure from China, would be comical were it not so tragic.

We are supposed to believe that the two sides met and talked about the weather. Please! Call it bullying, pressure, blackmail, whatever - the fact is: China told us to jump and we asked how high?

The argument that China is investing billions into our economy so we need to dance to their music is morally reprehensible, coming from a country that is still reeling from the shackles of apartheid. The reason this racist ideology succeeded in decimating our country and black people in particular, is precisely because of the moral paucity of those who continued to maintain relations with apartheid and bow down to the government of the day. In putting profit before the well-being of a people, they invariably kept alive an evil system.

What an absolute shame that this government, made up of men and women who sacrificed so much so that we can all bask in the glory of democracy, has now sold out.

The irony of this should not escape us. After all, this conference was not only aimed at cementing our position as a triumphant multiracial society, but also to promote soccer's role in overcoming prejudice and xenophobia. In choosing expediency over righteousness, we have subverted the very essence of the theme of the conference.

While China claims that Tibet has always been a part of China, Tibet has a history of hundreds of years of independence from China. This history is important, but not too significant in this saga. Our government is not using this history to justify its appalling decision, but rather, our good relations with China.

From this point of view, you can argue that while most of our leaders were exiled, working tirelessly to gain international support, other countries should have closed their doors for fear of risking their relationship with the Nats. It's true some did shut their doors, but enough support was available in order to unlock some of the doors. Where would we be if that weren't the case?

Shame on South Africa for spitting on our flag and mauling our values.