Tuesday, March 31, 2009



By Fred Khumalo
Mar 29, 2009

WE LIKE HIS STYLE: It’s not as if we don’t like the Dalai Lama. He has visited this country twice before, and we like his colourful threads. Picture: AP

What is everybody so excited about? This is realpolitik, people, not some chicken chop suey... Trade relations must prevail

Whatever they use to crunch balls out there in Shanghai, South Africa is not ready for it. So for now, we just have to play ball

Everyone is throwing their chopsticks out of the cot, bickering about the Dalai Lama being denied a visa by South Africa to attend a peace conference which would look at ways of using soccer to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Moral platitudes about this country’s warm relations with China, and therefore its implied lack of commitment to human rights, are flying faster than Bruce Lee’s kung fu chops.

I don’t get it. What is everybody so excited about?

I have my reasons why I think the Dalai Lama wouldn’t have been welcome here.

In South Africa, in our neverending celebration of “rainbowism”, both Chinese and African blacks are afforded the same status. They are beneficiaries of affirmative action and black economic empowerment. In a word, they are black.

The relationship runs even deeper between the Chinese and the Zulus — they both can’t pronounce their R’s.

They are also famous for what many other nations do not really regard as a virtue — fighting skills. So, the Chinese are comfortably black in South Africa.

Now you get a cheeky Chinese fellow, who refuses to be part of China, and you think he is going to be welcome here?

He is basically a coconut — a black person who is denying his blackness. In any case, the man doesn’t even eat pap and vleis, so what does he want here? Our Chinese friends from Cyrildene and other Chinatowns around the country not only eat skoppo (sheep’s head), but they also play fah-fee. That’s why that game of chance, which has been played in townships for more than six decades, has a Zulu name — umshayina.

The Dalai Lama wouldn’t know umshayina even if it were to give him a kung fu kick in the face.

The other least-reported, but glaringly obvious, reason for the refusal of the Dalai Lama’s visa is that at the shindig he was to attend in South Africa, there would have been an over-supply of Nobel peace prize winners — Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk.

Ag, we have enough of our own Nobel winners. Why allow a bald oke from the back of beyond to come and steal the limelight from our own homegrown Nobellers?

And then there’s the little matter of the Brits telling us that whenever we want to travel to their miserable, cold little island, we will need a visa.

That pissed us off. We have every right, then, to get somebody pissed off in return. It reassures us that, like a cock who can strut on his dunghill, we haven’t lost everything.

We can dis this cheeky Chinese guy who is refusing to be Chinese. I don’t get it. He is Chinese. Or will soon be.

Ask the Taiwanese. They are beginning to dance to the tune of mainland China.

This is realpolitik, people, not some chicken chop suey. And if you think I’m joking, let me strip this matter of all manner of sophisticated nuances. That is the job of the professors and commentators — to “problematise” a situation, as columnist Xolela Mangcu describes it.

Yet I am a simple man, with a simple take on life — so I will give it to you straight: you are my neighbour, and I give you a loan for your taxi fare — and the next thing I see you having a beer with Mkhize, my arch enemy who is bewitching me, who is sending bolts of lightning to my house!

Hhayi-khona, I won’t take that lying down. I will leave you to continue your friendship with Mkhize, and tell you never to come back to me when you need a loan for your taxi fare.

For a long time, the US, at its most arrogant, would say that if you consorted with its enemies, you were therefore an enemy of the US. Unfortunately, that’s how power manifests itself. Realism, my friends, realism.

Look, it’s not as if we don’t like the Dalai Lama. He has, in fact, visited this country twice before. It’s not as if he’s persona non grata.

Personally, I like the Dalai Lama. The metrosexual dude that I am appreciates his colour co-ordination. But South Africa’s trade relations and diplomatic ties are certainly more important than the Dalai Lama’s colourful threads.

Let me go further: Sino-French relations soured after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama in Poland last year, despite strong protests from China.

In response, China called off the Sino-EU summit scheduled for that month in Lyon, France.

It also cancelled high-level Chinese officials’ visits to the country. Premier Wen Jiabao skipped France during his European tour earlier this year.

So, at the end of the day, France is faced with the embarrassing prospect of sending, cap in hand, several high-ranking officials to China next month in an attempt to repair relations between the two countries.

Lento isobala njengempahla yembuzi — this is so obvious even Stevie Wonder, Babsy Mlangeni and Ray Charles (bless his soul) can see it.

The South African government looked at this situation from a practical rather than an emotional perspective. It weighed up the interests of the country, against its understandably important commitment to an international human rights culture.

It’s a catch-22 situation. Historically, we are indebted to the international community for their support of our struggle, and the universally expressed abhorrence of a lack of human rights in apartheid South Africa. But at the same time, we should be wary of endangering our ties with China.

My sense is that to avoid the embarrassment, the South African government should have taken a more proactive stance and approached the Dalai Lama with a view to him not availing himself for the peace summit in the first place. The PR disaster is of our government’s making.

No, I am no defeatist, nor am I an apologist for our government. I am a realist.

You say South Africa doesn’t have balls? I think we do. We’re just not ready to lose them — not to a Samurai sword, anyway. Wait a minute, Samurai is Japanese.

Whatever they use to crunch balls out there in Shanghai, South Africa is not ready for it. So, for now, we just have to play ball. The Chinese are the new US, quite frankly.

We’ve always played ball with the Americans, so what’s new? Look, I am a pragmatist. My only regret with Chinese ascendancy is that at my age, I will have to learn yet another new language, Mandarin — just when I was getting confident about English wordplay.