I have attended many former Summits and always looked forward to the day when South Africa would be able to host this prestigious event.

This is because I believe that we South Africans can make a very special contribution to the international debate on the peaceful resolution of conflicts. What we achieved in South Africa between 1990 and 1996 is perhaps one of the best examples of the vision that Alfred Nobel had in mind when he instituted the prize more than a century ago.

We South Africans showed the world that even the most intractable disputes can be resolved peacefully through negotiations, compromise and goodwill.

We wanted to share this experience with the world and with our fellow Nobel Peace Laureates in Cape Town – the city in which so many of the momentous events that occurred during the transformation of our society took place. We also wanted to dedicate this Summit to the memory of Nelson Mandela – a man who is perhaps one of the most inspiring examples of the true spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now this will not happen – firstly because our government has once again refused to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama – and, secondly, because Nobel Peace Laureates have decided to boycott the Summit because of the visa refusal.

I can understand the reaction of the Nobel Peace Laureates but nevertheless am convinced that it was not the most appropriate response to the visa refusal.

On 23 September Archbishop Tutu and I, together with the Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli Foundations, wrote to the Nobel Peace Laureates strongly urging them not to boycott the Cape Town Summit. We pointed out that by so doing they would simply hand the South African government exactly the outcome that it wanted. The government did not want the Summit to be held in South Africa – because it was concerned about the criticism that participants would inevitably direct against it for its refusal to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama.

We appealed to them to come to Cape Town to show their solidarity with the brave constitutional venture on which we South Africans embarked 20 years ago with so much hope. We pointed out that their presence in Cape Town would be the best tribute that they could pay to the memory and the achievements of Nelson Mandela.

We were disappointed that they did not heed our appeal, particularly because most of them had previously agreed that the best way to respond to the visa refusal would be to come to Cape Town and to make a protest here in South Africa in the full view of our people and of the international media. Their decision, at the last moment, to change their minds will inevitably result in unnecessary expenditure for many of those who had already made arrangements to come to Cape Town. Among them are more than 150 international students who had been saving for months to attend the Summit.

Nevertheless, the main responsibility for the suspension of the Summit lies squarely with the South African government.

Our foreign policy is supposed to reflect the values in our Constitution. The refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama is the antithesis of those values.

It says a great deal about what our government has become. After 1994 South Africa was seen as a beacon of hope for a world longing for justice, reconciliation, integrity and principled governance. Although we were always political opponents I always had the greatest respect for President Mandela and President Mbeki. Under their leadership South Africans could hold their heads up high in the international community.

That is unfortunately no longer the case. In the steady continuum of decline since 2008, the suspension of the Cape Town Summit may be seen by future historians as the point at which South Africa finally lost its claim to represent something special in Africa and something noble in the international community.

More than anything else, we needed Nobel Peace Laureates – as some of the most prominent moral leaders in the international community – to come to Cape Town to reaffirm their support for the values to which we committed ourselves when our new society came into being. The government’s refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama, the legacy of Marikana, and daily reports of the sordid dealings of our leaders and of our Parliament are all disturbing signs of the accelerating erosion of those values.

At this moment in our history it would be appropriate for all South Africans to look deeply into the mirror and to see the kind of society that we have become.

I should like to direct a special word of thanks to the Mayor and her team – and to the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates – for their untiring efforts to arrange the Summit in Cape Town. I have no doubt that it would have been a resounding success.

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation
2 October 2014