MUSTAFA SÖNMEZ/ Hurriyet Daily News –October/05/2013

Turkey and South Africa are rasing in the same group for attracting foreign capital and both of them aim to become regional power. However, South Africa seems to be closer to achieveing its goals, particularly due to its government, which respects different identities and cultures living together


After a 10 day trip in South Africa, I became convinced that Turkey and South Africa are two countries racing in the same group for attracting foreign capital, even though they are on different continents.

Foreign investors also compare these two countries. South Africa has a challenge to be the spring board and the leader of its continent, while Turkey is challenging to be the springboard and regional power of the Middle East, with Istanbul planned to be transformed into “global city.” However, in terms of success in reaching these strategic goals, South Africa seems to be in the lead when compared to Turkey. Why?

First of all, both two countries have a structure of multiple-identities and multiple-cultures.
South Africa has 11 official languages. English is the mother tongue of 9 percent of its 51 million population and is accepted and used as the main official language. I didn’t meet anyone who couldn’t speak English. While English is the common language, the usage of the other languages varies from region to region.

Nine autonomous regions

The new South African Constitution completely changed the centralist structure of the old racist and discriminatory regime. Transitions through decentralization enabled the people to join in on the decision making process. Today, there are nine regions and regional governments that have important authorities. The Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Free State, North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo all have their own local parliaments. While the center took decisions in the past, now the decisions are taken with the participation of the people at local level.

The “black” power protects the rights of the “white” minorities. Despite the country having one of the world’s least equal income distributions, they don’t touch the properties of the white minorities or impose special taxes. They don’t go in for revanchism. The determination for co-existence and the progress over the last 20 years in bringing peace to home is the South Africa’s biggest advantages.

However, Turkey has never been able to become a country that respects different identities and cultures, and it still can’t. The democratization package is labeled as a way of distraction by the Kurdish people who have been waiting for it for a long time. Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule isn’t intimate with the people who have a Kurdish identity or Alevi beliefs. In this respect, Turkey lags behind South Africa.

Which country is closer to being a regional power? South Africa comes to the fore here as well. The country is a source of hope not only for the region, but also for the whole continent. South Africa gives strong inspirations with its democratization moves, also setting a model for political, social and economic growth movements by taking part in different blocs in the world economy. The country also gets along very well with its neighbors.

Is it possible to be able to say the same for today’s Turkey under the AKP rule? Can a country that has wasted around $400 billion of foreign capital over the last decade, and that is suffering from a growing external debt and current account deficit, be a regional power? Turkey has also adopted an image of “precious loneliness,” and is not getting along with its neighbors. In this vein, it lags behind South Africa.

Having identity, anchor

South Africa has more or less an anchor, which makes it advantageous in the future. The country has been a member of the BRICS club since 2010, with a strong identity. The country has good relations specifically with China, complementing each other with the other members, Brazil, Russia and India.

What about Turkey? Does Turkey have any anchor? The Europian Union is trying to become more distant to the AKP’s Turkey than it was before. Germany (under the 3rd Merkel period) appears to be pioneering this trend by issuing flawless reactions during the Gezi protests. Not having a strong anchor makes the already-fragile Turkey less attractive for foreign investors.

In sum, Turkey under AKP rule shows no success in maintaining peace and stability either at home or abroad. In contrast, South Africa has become more powerful day by day irrespective of its weaknesses, such as high income disparities, bribery claims, etc.

Written by Mustafa Sönmez