ARCHBISHOP Desmond Tutu said Tuesday the South African government was worse than its apartheid predecessor and warned he would pray for its downfall after it dithered over a visa for the Dalai Lama.
Anti-apartheid crusader Tutu invited his longtime friend and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner to give an inaugural peace lecture as part of Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations in Cape Town this week.
But the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader cancelled his trip because he had not yet received a visa.
In response, Tutu, widely seen as South Africa's conscience keeper, called a nationally televised news conference and lambasted President Jacob Zuma.
"When we used to apply for passports from the apartheid government, we never knew until the last moment what the decision was," Tutu said.
"Our government is worse than the apartheid government, because at least you were expecting it with the apartheid government," he added.
Tutu said South Africans, who had enjoyed international backing in their struggle against apartheid, should be on the side of other oppressed peoples.
"Our government, representing me, representing me!, says it will not support Tibetans who are being oppressed viciously by the Chinese," Tutu said.
"Hey Mr Zuma, you and your government don't represent me. You represent your own interests.
"I am warning you, one day we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC (African National Congress) government. You are disgraceful. I want to warn you, you are behaving in a way that is totally at variance with the things for which we stood," he said.
"I am warning you that we will pray as we prayed for the downfall of the apartheid government. We will pray for the downfall of a government that misrepresents us."
In reaction the ANC has asked the "angry" and "emotional" bishop to "please calm down".
"It is very unfortunate that Tutu before even hearing government's side decided to attack the government and the ANC," party spokesman Jackson Mthembu told the Sapa news agency.
"The issue of the Dalai Lama was not even discussed in our structures," he said.
South Africa has insisted normal procedures were followed without outside pressure on the visa application.
"Unfortunately he's decided to pull out of the trip, which is his decision, and we have noted that decision," said foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela.
But Tutu said: "Clearly, whether they say so or not, they were quite determined that they are not going to do anything that would upset the Chinese."
A spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile based in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala said Pretoria had acted out of fear of angering China.
"We are very disappointed that a sovereign nation like South Africa would succumb to Chinese pressure. It is a great pity," spokesman Thubten Samphel told AFP.
South Africa denied the Dalai Lama a visa in 2009, claiming it would detract from preparations for the 2010 World Cup.
"Two years ago the minister... said the Dalai Lama can come any time," said Tutu of foreign affairs minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
"Either she was being very economical with the truth or she didn't know her work. She should have known that it was unlikely they would let him come."
But the Dalai Lama was personally welcomed by president Nelson Mandela and visited three times previously.
The row has overshadowed Tutu's birthday celebrations, which start with a book launch on Thursday and include a public church service followed by a picnic on his actual birthday on Friday.
A video link with the Dalai Lama might replace the planned lecture, said Desmond Tutu Peace Trust chairperson Dumisa Ntsebeza.
China has always sought to curb the Dalai Lama's overseas travels, warning host governments that any visit would harm bilateral ties, especially if he was met by state officials.
Announcing the cancellation, the Dalai Lama's office said the Tibetan leader had no wish "to create any inconveniences to anyone, individuals or governments".
South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe last week made a four-day visit to China, where he signed a series of trade deals but made no mention of the visa issue.
The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.