Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, speaks during a news conference in Mexico City on September 9, 2011.
AFP/Getty Images
Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, speaks during a news conference in Mexico City on September 9, 2011.

Story highlights

NEW: The African National Congress says Desmond Tutu should calm down

Tutu says the government is acting worse than apartheid regime

The Dalai Lama says South Africa did not issue a visa on time

He was denied a visa to South Africa in 2009

Johannesburg CNN —  

Miffed by a visa delay that led the Dalai Lama to cancel a trip to South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu lashed out at his government Tuesday, saying it had acted worse than apartheid regimes and had forgotten all that the nation stood for.

“When we used to apply for passports under the apartheid government, we never knew until the last moment what their decision was,” Tutu said at a news conference. “Our government is worse than the apartheid government because at least you were expecting it from the apartheid government.

“I have to say that I can’t believe this. I really can’t believe this,” Tutu said. “You have to wake me up and tell me this is actually happening here.”

The Dalai Lama scrapped his planned trip to South Africa this week after the nation failed to issue him a visa in time, his spokesman said.

Visa applications for him and his entourage were submitted to the South African High Commission in New Delhi, India, at the end of August, and original passports were submitted on September 20, more than two weeks ago, a statement on his website said.

However, South Africa’s foreign affairs office said it did not refuse a visa.

“South Africa will not comment on the decision, because it is not our decision, it is his decision,” according to spokesman Clayson Monyela, who said the visa application was still under consideration.

The Dalai Lama had been invited to the country to receive the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Peace and Reconciliation and to speak at a number of events, including a lecture in honor of Tutu’s 80th birthday. Tutu and the Dalai Lama are recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tutu said he would pray for the defeat of South Africa’s government, led by the African National Congress (ANC), which is rooted in the fight against the system of apartheid, or legal racial separation, that was present in South Africa until 1994.

“You are disgraceful,” Tutu said about the government. “You are behaving in a way that is totally at variance with the things for which we stood.”

The ANC plans to call on government officials to explain to South Africans why the visa process was delayed, spokesman Jackson Mtembu said. He said everyone was in the dark about this matter.

But he also suggested that Tutu calm down. A comparison to apartheid regimes, he said, was unfair.

This is not the first time the Dalai Lama has not been able to visit South Africa. In 2009, South Africa refused the Tibetan spiritual leader a visa to attend an international peace conference, saying it was not in the country’s interest for him to attend.

In refusing the 2009 application, South Africa said that if the Dalai Lama attended the conference, the focus would shift away from the 2010 World Cup, the global soccer championship it was hosting.

“We cannot allow focus to shift to China and Tibet,” presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe said, adding that South Africa had gained much from its trading relationship with China.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and China pressures governments around the world to deny him any legitimacy.

Speculation surfaced Tuesday that this year’s visit was also affected by South Africa’s relationship with China.

South African Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe visited Beijing last week and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss bolstering bilateral ties.

Motlanthe said South Africa was ready to boost the strategic partnership between the two countries to a new stage, according to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua.

But Monyela said the application had nothing to do with China.

“We are a sovereign nation which takes decisions in our domestic interest,” Monyela said.

Kim Norgaard, CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief, contributed to this report.