Johannesburg: Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama berated the South African government on Wednesday for its handling of the Tibetan spiritual leader's request for a visa to attend Tutu's 80th birthday party.
The pair say Pretoria has yet to respond to the visa request, which has put South Africa in an awkward position with key trade partner China.
"The manner in which the South African government has responded to the visa application of His Holiness the Dalai Lama... is profoundly disrespectful of two Nobel Peace laureates who are among the most revered spiritual leaders on earth," their offices said in a joint statement.
Tutu said Pretoria's handling of the matter was "reminiscent of the way authorities dealt with applications by black South Africans for travel documents under apartheid."
Tutu has invited the Dalai Lama to celebrate his 80th birthday with him on October 07 in Cape Town.
The Tibetan spiritual leader is also scheduled to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture the following day.
But South Africa -- which denied him a visa in 2009, admitting it did not want to jeopardise ties with China -- has been dragging its feet on his visa request, according to Tutu.
The Dalai Lama's office says his representatives began the visa application process in June, and have followed up regularly with the South African High Commission in New Delhi.
South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is currently on a four-day official visit to China. No announcement on the visa is expected before he returns on Friday.
The statement comes amid heightened tensions over Tibet after two young monks set themselves on fire Monday at a monastery in southwestern China, calling for religious freedom.
Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of trying to suppress their predominantly Buddhist culture.
The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.
First Published: Thursday, September 29, 2011, 11:08