South Africa's government acted unlawfully by dragging its heels on a visa bid by the Dalai Lama which prompted accusations of pandering to key trade partner China, a court ruled Thursday.
The Supreme Court of Appeal found that former home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had "unreasonably delayed her decision whether to grant or withhold the visas... and in so doing acted unlawfully".
The Dalai Lama was invited to give a lecture at the 80th birthday celebrations of anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu last year but cancelled his trip after Pretoria failed to provide news on his application and that of his entourage.
The stalling prompted a furious response from Tutu who blasted the government as being "worse than the apartheid government", and sparked accusations that the government was bowing to please China which regards the Tibetan as a separatist.
The appeal was brought by opposition lawmakers after a challenge was thrown out of the High Court.
The court found no evidence that the government had actually made a decision not to grant a visa and was obfuscating, but did detect stalling tactics.
"What is justified by the evidence is an inference that the matter was deliberately delayed so as to avoid a decision," stated the judgment.
The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.© ANP/AFP