DHARAMSHALA: Around 100 people, at the behest of the Chinese embassy in South Africa, staged a protest at the University of Stellenbosch while CTA President Dr Lobsang Sangay was addressing the students and faculty of the University’s law department on 8 February.
The protesters comprised of both South Africans as well as Chinese. The protesters were seen raising slogans such as ‘One China’ and ‘Stop Splitting Tibet from China’ and carrying banners such as ‘One China Policy ’, in what seemed like a glaring case of being oblivious to the core issue of the Tibetan struggle. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration have long renounced complete independence for Tibet. They have proposed the Middle Way Approach, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet maintaining the ‘one China policy’ that the protesters themselves were calling for in their protest in Cape Town.
The protesters entered and disrupted the main auditorium with the aim to disrupt the CTA President’s address. However, the event was shifted to another auditorium.
While addressing the students, Dr Sangay reminisced having listened to Cyril Ramaphosa speak at Harvard Law School and being told that South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions and that it ensures equality and freedom. But lamented that currently it looks as though a watering down of the constitution and its values is taking place.
“I’ve walked the same path as South Africa has walked and its the same message I want to communicate: to embrace the values of the constitution. You must all embrace it and uphold it. If South Africa could achieve success, so can Tibet, without violence,” Dr Sangay said.
After the address, around 30 protesters raised slogans again “Shame on you” “one China”. However, Dr Sangay smiled and showed a victory sign symbolizing the victory of freedom of speech.
Speaking about the protests, CTA President Dr Lobsang Sangay said: “The Chinese protesters practiced and witnessed freedom of speech today.”
He appreciated the fact that university stood its ground despite pressure from various quarters to cancel the event. “The University especially the law school stood up for freedom of speech and the values enshrined in the South African constitution. It’s admirable that there are people who’ll continue to uphold the spirit of democracy and human rights,” he said.
Responding to the protests staged on campus, Martin Viljoen, senior communication official for Stellenbosch University, said the University of Stellenbosch supports the principles of freedom of speech, the promotion of academic freedom, and robust debate within the framework of the constitution.
Reacting to the protests, Dhardon Sharling, Secretary (equivalent) for information at the Department of Information and International Relations, Central Tibetan Administration, said: “The protest was evidently orchestrated by the Chinese embassy in South Africa as Chinese embassy officials were seen distributing pamphlets and banners at the protest site. This is corroborated by the fact that the embassy issued a statement in light of the protests.”
In what can be considered an unprecedented move, the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of South Africa issued a press statement on its official website lauding the ‘massive protests.’ Titled ‘The Sneaked-in Head of “Tibetan Administration in Exile” Met with Massive Local Protest,’ the statement mentioned “When the news spreads that the self-proclaimed “President” of the “Tibetan Administration in Exile” Lobsang Sangay attempted to address the Faculty of Law at the Stellenbosch University on 8 Feb, hundreds of South African locals and members of the Chinese community traveled to the school to express, in a peaceful and orderly gathering, their strongest anger and rejection of the move by the politician to sabotage China-SA relations.”
Responding to the Chinese embassy’s statement, Dhardon Sharling said “till now, the Chinese government has been coercing governments across the world not to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama and leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration. However, this time, the fact that they are publicly doing this is a paradigm shift in their approach and clearly exposes their insecurity on the issue of Tibet.”
The Inkatha Freedom Party led by its founder and president Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi condemned the South African Chinese embassy’s actions in response to CTA President Dr Lobsang Sangay visit to the country. It released a press release yesterday in which it expressed its outrage at the lengths the Chinese government will go to in order to silence the voice of the Tibetan people in South Africa.
“Yesterday’s staged [Chinese] Embassy protestations against the president of the Tibetan government in exile, Dr Lobsang Sangay, when he visited the law faculty at Stellenbosch University will bring nothing but further shame and disgrace to China as it continues with its policy of oppression against the people of Tibet, no matter where in the world they may be found,” IFP Chief Whip in Parliament, Mr Narend Singh MP said.
Sandy Kalyan, a member of the South African Parliament from the country’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) condemned China’s opposition to the visit of Dr Lobsang Sangay, to South Africa. Calling the behaviours of the Chinese embassy as akin to a child throwing tantrum, Sandy called on China to stop “overstepping” on South Africa’s sovereign rights.
“In a manner reminiscent of a child throwing a tantrum, the Chinese issued a strongly worded statement that the visit would result in Chinese investment being discouraged. Such veiled threats to the Government of SA cannot be ever entertained. If China wants to go, it should go. The time for non South Africans to hold the South African Government to ransom is long gone,” wrote MP Sandy.