I do not hold South Africa in lower regard than most other countries, but it bothers me to see such a supposedly righteous country treat a global icon -- and his oppressed people -- with such disdain and hypocrisy.
Post-Apartheid South Africa has consistently staked a claim as (1) the leading edge of Africa's future, and (2) the global champion of human rights. Once again, that perfect image has come up lacking, as the Dalai Lama failed to get a visa to attend the birthday celebration of his fellow Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu -- and the same week that China (with Russia) vetoed sanctions against Syria in the UN Security Council.
South Africa's military and economic relations with China trump human rights, even those of a persecuted indigenous people like the Tibetans. Ironically, South Africa and the leading African National Congress have been staunch supporters of Palestinian rights for decades -- I know they share Marxist roots, but isn't it convenient that the Palestinian cause is bankrolled by oil money?
Speaking of money, China has been saturating the entire African continent for several years now, so barring the Dalai Lama should come as little surprise. South Africa continues to act like Nelson Mandela was just released from Robben Island, though it is now prone to the same flaws and fallacies plaguing other great and minor powers around the world.
South Africa has made great strides in many fields, despite a legacy of hardship, but there's more: Last month, the United Nations marked the tenth anniversary of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, in the absence of many Western delegations, a nagging reminder that the "Durban" conference brought disgrace to South Africa right before 9/11 eclipsed all else.
South African President Jacob Zuma has been relatively constructive in his mediation effort in neighboring Zimbabwe, but the pathetic favoritism of his predecessor -- Thabo Mbeki -- toward Zimbabwe's savage dictator Robert Mugabe leaves a permanent stain on South Africa's credibility as a symbol for democracy and human dignity. Mbeki's refusal, as President, to allow accurate information or proven medication to combat HIV/AIDS was a death warrant for hundreds of thousands of his own people.
Who is responsible for romanticizing the post-Apartheid state? Friends in Africa tell me it's the Western media, egged on by the impassioned political drive 25 years ago to free Black South Africans. Either way, it's not helping anyone, including a South African elite that has yet to face reality (as reflected in Mbeki, their compromised standard-bearer). South Africa has a bottom line, and it's not about human rights. It's about what every other country (except Canada, mostly) seeks -- power and prosperity. That's fine. But let's stop pretending otherwise.