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A South African visa for the Dalai Lama? Not as simple as it sounds.

South Africa made the choice most in its national interest in not granting a visa to the Dalai Lama, a decision that risked angering China, a major partner, argues guest blogger Zama Ndlovu.

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National interests are not always glamorous, easily dissectible unrelated issues. A decision will often anger some, but it must serve the interests of a majority of people within the country. When the ANC campaigned during the national elections, it did not promise to do what Mandela would do; instead, it promised meaningful employment and sustainable growth. It is by that, and not its Jesus-like behavior, by which the majority will judge it.

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Had our “shared morality” won the day, the Dalai Lama would have had a good time at an exclusive venue with maybe a five-minute segment on Top Billing, while the government was left to salvage a relationship with a very unhappy strategic investor, and some very poor and unemployed people, with only one happy Arch to show for its efforts. When we decided to get into a cheap bed with China, certain sovereignties were lost in the process. We must pick our battles well.

Take my bible if you see fit but in this instance, the South African government made the best decision for the whole. If we really care about our heavy dependence on China, then we must raise that particular issue with government and focus on diversifying our diplomatic and economic relationships. But for now, it’s easier to Skype in the Dalai Lama than finding billions in alternative investments.

The government’s real mistake here is that its citizens still cannot predict, with some level of certainty, what its decision on any foreign affairs issue will be. It’s as though International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane consults the magic eight ball when a new issue arises.

So long as the our government does not pen down a foreign policy and effectively communicate it to its citizens, we’ll be stuck in a situation where the great people at Lead SA decide our morals and principles with John Robbie and his callers. The Great Archbishop will continue to hold press conferences and declare the ANC “worse than the apartheid government” and pray for its demise at dinner time.

As a country, we must define, and more importantly, prioritize our true values and principles, and not rely on the reactionary values we defined when we were worried about not repeating that apartheid thing again. Until we do this, each South African will continue to define his or her personal interests and preferences as national interests, and the country will continue to look to each of us, and to the world, like a spineless pseudo-powerful confused emerging economy.

Zama Ndlovu blogs about South African politics on the Mail and Guardian's Thought Leader blog page here.

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