Denying the Dalai Lama: South Africa’s visa diplomacy, human rights and the media

  • Suzette van der Westhuizen Government Communication and Information System South Africa
  • Jo-Ansie van Wyk Department of Political Sciences University of South Africa South Africa


South Africa has declared human rights a cornerstone of its foreign policy. However, its denial of visas to the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa on three successive occasions is illustrative of the contradictions in the country’s human rights foreign policy. South Africa’s decision to promote Sino-South African relations rather than address the causes of the Dalai Lama’s exile, and China’s occupation of Tibet and poor human rights record has resulted in widespread media reaction in South Africa and abroad. Three related matters were highlighted, namely South Africa’s human rights foreign policy; the country’s visa diplomacy and its refusal of visas to the Dalai Lama to promote Sino-South African bilateral trade and diplomatic relations; and the media as a key domestic foreign policy actor. This study uses a constructivist approach. It concludes that the South African media framed and constructed the South African government’s public and visa diplomacy in respect of the Dalai Lama from the ideational turn (the promotion of human rights) whereas South Africa’s foreign policy is presented as replaced by a hegemonic turn in favour of China.