By H.E. Ayşegül Kandaş
As we celebrate the centenary of the proclamation of the Republic of Türkiye, it is an honour and pleasure to share with South African readers the current status of Turkish-South African relations.
2023 began with the fruitful bilateral visit of then Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to South Africa upon the invitation of his counterpart H.E. Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation on January 9-10, 2023. A number of documents for cooperation namely in the fields of science and academic relations were signed during the visit. The two ministers discussed ways to further improve our already strong bilateral relations during their talks and also had the chance to touch upon global and regional issues.
On 6 February 2023 two earthquakes struck south-eastern Türkiye. These deadly earthquakes affected an area of approximately 110,000 square kilometres and caused destruction in 11 provinces of Türkiye, directly affecting around 13.5 million people. During this time of great loss to the Turkish nation, we have seen countries and people from all over the world stand in solidarity with our people, including South Africa. Over 100 countries sent search and rescue teams and urgent aid including South Africa.
Gift of the Givers (GoG) sent 33 of its volunteers to the earthquake zone during the first week together with a team of K-9 dogs from South African Police Services, saving lives from under the rubble. There was a humanitarian bond created with NGOs, Muslim communities and churches carrying out fundraising campaigns.
We are grateful for the 180 tons of in-kind assistance ranging from winter tents to portable toilets as well as over R4 million of donations that were transferred to our country from 10,000 km away. The South African Department of Health also sent 10 tons of PPE equipment.
We are grateful for all the support, solidarity and compassion shown by the generous people of South Africa. We now have two mega tents sent from South Africa which are functioning as temporary primary schools in Hatay. They bear the sign “Ubuntu” and the South African flag on them.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of our Republic, we are proud to announce that Türkiye-Africa relations gained considerable momentum over the last 20 years.
President of Türkiye H.E. Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the President of the Republic of South Africa H.E. Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa had fruitful talks along the margins of United Nations General Assembly meetings in September this year. We look forward to sustaining such high-level exchanges and the convening of the 1st Bi-National Commission in Türkiye in the ensuing period.
Bilateral trade volume between South Africa and Türkiye was recorded as 2 billion dollars in 2021, however it increased by more than 60% in 2022, reaching US$3.3 billion. This is the highest volume recorded so far. Our goal is to increase the trade volume to US$5 billion in the medium term. We see that both countries have much more potential and we can easily reach this target if we continue to work in collaboration.
South Africa is the biggest trading partner of Türkiye in Sub-Saharan Africa, while prominent Turkish companies such as Turkish Airlines, Arçelik/DEFY, ASELSAN, AKSA, SAMPA, ELCAB, EKINOKS have invested in various sectors. There are more Turkish companies that are conducting research with a view to entering the South African and SADC markets in sectors such as Furniture, IT, Aviation, Logistics, Energy, Construction.
Our educational ties with the African continent have enhanced as well. Currently more than 60 thousand African students continue their higher education on scholarship in Türkiye. 557 students from South Africa applied to the Türkiye Scholarships program (YTB) from 2001 until the end of 2022. Every year an increasing number of South African students earn full scholarship to pursue undergraduate or graduate studies and currently more than 240 students are studying at Turkish universities (with or without scholarship).
In addition to Türkiye Scholarship program, Turkish Maarif Foundation (TMF), as a non-profit public foundation running a total of 465 schools in 51 countries, has opened an elementary school in Johannesburg in 2021 under the name “International Maarif School Johannesburg”, and is in the process of opening another one in Cape Town. There is a Maarif Center for Turkish Studies at the University of Pretoria established for academic studies on subjects related to Türkiye.
Turkish Development Cooperation Agency (TİKA) regards South Africa as a significant development partner within the context of south-south collaboration, and it has successfully executed over 60 projects in in the country since the opening of its Office in Pretoria in 2017. These projects prioritize areas such as education, women's empowerment, access to clean water, renewable energy, and agriculture in all nice provinces of the country.
Last but not least, Yunus Emre Institute and Turkish Cultural Centre in Johannesburg contributes significantly to bringing the two peoples together in the cultural sphere. The Institute offers Turkish language classes, traditional Turkish art and handicraft courses, Turkish film screenings, seminars with intellectuals from both sides, Turkish cuisine cooking classes and art exhibitions. The Turkish national broadcaster, TRT, has introduced a series of "Welcome to My City” episodes showcasing the cultural and historic attractions of Johannesburg and Cape Town to the Turkish public.
We recently held a fashion show in the Mall of Africa (Gauteng) on October 5th as a true reflection of cultural cooperation. İzmir Olgunlaşma Institute, a public entity established to promote Turkish textile and handicrafts exhibited traditional hand-made costumes and fabric with a fabulous show. This was followed by the fashion show of Urban Zulu, a famous South African designer. We were delighted to see how cultural artefacts can bring people together within the context of a common artistic endeavour.
There are many commonalities that create a bond between the peoples of both countries. This is evident in the wide interest shown in Turkish TV series being aired on South African TV channels and the ever-increasing number of South African tourists travelling to Istanbul every year. We would like to build on the existing bond which also got strengthened through the humanitarian crisis caused by the earthquakes this year, through the organization of more joint events in this beautiful country.
* H.E. Ayşegül Kandaş is Türkiye’s Ambassador to South Africa.
** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.