“There are currently high-level mechanisms in place between Turkey and South Africa which could help us forge relations, but trade and investment between the two countries should grow and adequately reflect the size of our economies and the interest we have in each other,” Vika Khumalo, the South African ambassador in Turkey, has stated.
During an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman last week, Khumalo spoke about the political and economic mechanisms that are in place between Turkey and South Africa and their positive effects in further developing bilateral relations.
A Joint Economic Committee (JEC) established between Turkey and South Africa first convened in April 2008. In addition, an agreement between the business councils of both countries -- Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) and the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry -- was signed in May 2010.
After South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s visit to Ankara in June last year, relations between the two countries reached a new high with the establishment of a bi-national commission.
The commission, which aims to enhance cooperation between the two countries in the fields of politics, economy, trade, defense and many other sectors, is co-chaired by Motlanthe and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The bi-national commission will convene every two years, with the next meeting being held in 2014.
However, Khumalo said that the major barrier to further growth in trade and investment relations is the lack of awareness between Turkey and South Africa. “More investments would make it possible for both countries to take notice of each other in terms of growing interest in the economic sphere.”
In 2011, Arçelik, a leading manufacturer of home appliances in Turkey, acquired South Africa’s Defy Appliances for $324 million, the largest Turkish investment in South Africa to date.
According to data from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat), bilateral trade volume reached approximately $1.6 billion in 2012. South Africa is Turkey’s most important economic partner on the African continent.
South Africa’s major exports to Turkey comprise minerals, base metals, machinery and mechanical appliances, electrical equipment, chemical and allied products, vehicles, aircrafts, iron and steel, organic chemicals, ores, slag and ash.
‘Turkey would add great value to BRICS’
Turkey is the fastest growing economy in Europe and its integration to the BRICS group -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa --would add a lot of value to the group.
“This [integration] is up to Turkey; Turkey has to call for that,” Khumalo said.
The economic group --then BRIC was founded in 2006 with the aim of reforming the architecture of the world economy, including the international monetary system, and cooperating to meet the economic and social challenges of modernization. South Africa was included in the group in 2010 and the group’s name became BRICS.
Indonesia, Turkey and Chile, with their large growth rates in the last couple of years, are often described in international reports as potential BRICS members.
As a heavyweight in Africa, South Africa is very much pleased with Turkey’s opening to Africa policy.
Over the past several years, Turkey has pursued a multidimensional, multilateral foreign policy approach toward the African continent. The policy of opening up to the African continent, which was initiated in 2005, occupies a special place in Turkey’s foreign policy. Within the scope of this initiative, Turkey and African states are strengthening their political and economic bonds, through various mechanisms and economic cooperation processes.
“Especially in Somalia, Erdoğan has changed the course of history,” the ambassador said.
“Almost for 20 years, there was almost no international organization and no country in Somalia. Turkey started to assist Somalia, and look at it now,” Khumalo said.
Turkey is also continuing to mediate between the various factions in Somalia to reconcile the parties in dispute in order to help democracy move forward in the civil war-torn African country.
“There is still huge room for improvement, enough room for Turkey to do more. Turkey could continue to provide humanitarian assistance,” he noted. The ambassador also appreciated the projects and activities of the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) in Africa, that are designed to serve long term purposes as the development of social and economic infrastructure in African countries.
Humanitarian aid assistance is also an important aspect of South African foreign policy, as this is the area that South Africa concentrates its efforts on when engaging with other countries, Khumalo mentioned.
“In that humanitarian aid policy aspect, there is a huge scope for partnership between South Africa and Turkey,” Khumalo stated, but the two countries have not yet signed anything that would allow them to cooperate officially. In the coming years, cooperation between TİKA and equivalent development agencies in South Africa is hoped for, the ambassador mentioned.
‘Free trade agreement not on agenda with Turkey’
The ambassador also mentioned that signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with Turkey is currently off the agenda, expressing that the energy in the bilateral relations should be spent on expanding trade relations in the areas that are identified beforehand.
During the meeting of the Turkey-South Africa Joint Economic Council last year, the two countries identified several trade areas with a potential of growing the trade between the two.
“These areas do not need a free trade agreement. We can renegotiate this in the form of a preferential trade agreement in the future,” Khumalo said.
“South Africa cannot anymore sign a unilateral free trade agreement with any country without consulting its partners in southern Africa. If Turkey insists on that [for an FTA], we can look after 2016. If there is still that opportunity may be that discussion [to sign a free trade agreement] would come back,” Khumalo explained.
South Africa’s obligations in the regional customs union organizations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Southern African Customs Union (SACU), included a free trade agreement with the EU complicated Turkey’s efforts for negotiating a FTA with the country. Unfortunately, this is hurting Turkish firms because they are not on an equal footing with other companies that benefit from customs union or free trade arrangements with the EU.
‘Arab Spring an eye-opener for African countries’
The ambassador also called the Arab Spring an eye-opener for most countries, including Africa, noting that a lot of countries have begun paying attention to what young people want thanks to the wave of change in the Middle East and North Africa more than two years ago.
“It was an eye-opener for most countries, not only for Africa, but for most countries where the majority of youth are unemployed and there isn’t a representative system on the part of the people,” Khumalo said.
African countries have gone through a series of coups in the past but a lot of them were unsuccessful simply because they were not a true reflection of the will of the people, Khumalo stated. The African Union (AU) is a mechanism that promotes democracy in the region, refusing to recognize any government that comes through the back door -- via a military coup, for example, Khumalo also said, adding that this is the union’s clear message to member countries.
“Human beings express their will through the ballot box. That is what Africans want. That is what Mali wants, what [the Central African Republic] CAR wants. The religious differences [in these countries] are exacerbated by the dictatorships that exist in some of those countries,” Khumalo stated, citing the recent conflicts in Mali and CAR as an example.
‘Turkey doing the right thing with PKK settlement’
Khumalo also noted his admiration for Turkey’s determination in conducting its settlement process with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), mentioning that it is extremely important for such a reconciliation process to be conducted between the conflicting parties without any mediation by a third party.
Discussing South Africa’s own experiences during its reconciliation process in the 1990s to end the apartheid regime, Khumalo stated that “Nobody come to help us. We learnt a number of lessons from other people. But when it came to negotiations, we did it on our own. If you do it yourselves, it will be your own.”
Earlier in May, a delegation of politicians from Turkey from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and other opposition parties visited South Africa in order to observe how the country overcame its internal conflict in order to apply some of the lessons to Turkey’s settlement process with the PKK.
South Africa is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, with 11 different languages being spoken across the country. The country defines its multi-identity structure as a “rainbow nation” in which people from Israel, Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. live in South Africa as one nation.
“Reconciliation is not an event, it is a process and it is an ongoing thing. It [internal reconciliation] is a must for a country’s progress,” said Khumalo.
‘Structure of UN Security Council must be changed’
Khumalo also spoke about South Africa’s discourse on the structure of the UN Security Council, saying it should have been changed years ago. “The council has a paralyzed structure. For a very long time South Africa has been for a reform of the council. You have five permanent members there. They cannot agree and this goes on and on,” Khumalo said.
The most recent example of the council’s paralysis is the Syrian crisis, said Khumalo. “If it was effective enough, a solution to the Syrian crisis could have been found. But as it [the council] stands, it is currently paralyzed. We need a serious change to the structure of the Security Council,” Khumalo mentioned.
Turkey is bidding for a non-permanent membership seat on the Security Council for the 2015-2016 term. “This depends on how Turkey will lobby for the seat and whether South Africa will support Turkey’s bid or not,” Khumalo added.
Meanwhile, Khumalo stated that there is no military solution to the prolonged Syrian crisis, noting that sending arms to assist either side would in fact escalate the problem instead of solving it.