26/03/2009 12:32 - (SA)
Cape Town - Civil society groups and a Constitutional Court judge have added their voices to growing support for Health Minister Barbara Hogan's stand on the Dalai Lama.
Hogan provoked the ire of the government on Tuesday by saying its denial of a visa to the Tibetan leader under Chinese pressure showed it was "dismissive of human rights", and urging it to apologise.
The Helen Suzman Foundation said in a statement it supported the "principled stance" taken by Hogan.
"The notion of a minister having a different view from Cabinet on a matter is not unprecedented nor is it unacceptable for that opinion to be voiced publicly," the foundation said.
"Any censure or other steps that may be taken against Hogan will be deeply unfortunate."
It said Hogan, who "personally" knew the deep suffering of political intolerance, should be commended for reminding South Africans of some basic tenets of their own history and how the country had a special duty to human rights campaigners globally.
Constitutional Court judge Kate O'Regan on Thursday publicly backed Hogan, SABC radio news reported.
"It is a matter of dismay that human rights does not seem to enter into the picture of some foreign affairs decisions that are made," O'Regan was quoted as saying.
She said that like Hogan, she remembered the years of the 1980s "when South Africa was so fortunate to have friends all over the world assisting our human rights struggle".
Managing director of the Afrikanerbond Jan Bosman said the refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama was an example of a government that puts its own narrow interests first with no regard to internationally acceptable norms.
"It must therefore be welcomed that individuals such as Ms Barbara Hogan, Minister of Health, spoke out against this decision," he said.
"The deafening silence by the rest of Cabinet must be seen as condoning this abuse of the most basic of human rights."
The Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum on Thursday released a letter it sent to President Kgalema Motlanthe earlier in the week expressing its "serious concern" about the denial of the visa.
"We raise our voice alongside the many others of our civil society expressing anger and disappointment," said the letter, which was signed by forum chairman, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba.
"We were... shocked by the decision to block a visit by one of the world's most highly respected and visible spokespersons for religious faith, tolerance and human rights.
"By acting in a way that reflects Beijing's political demands you have weakened our national sovereignty."
The letter asked Motlanthe to "reflect" on the decision.
"As leaders of diverse faiths and communities, we believe South Africa has erred in its judgement."
The Tibetan spiritual leader, along with other Nobel Peace Prize winners, was to have addressed a peace conference aimed at thrashing out ways of using football to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
On Wednesday, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said Hogan's comments were "rather unfortunate".
"The comments of the minister of health were rather unfortunate in the sense that this position on the Dalai Lama is an official position of this government."
Maseko repeated government's stance that the Dalai Lama was refused entry because his presence would draw the world's attention away from World Cup preparations.
But he conceded that relations with China also played a role.