27 June 2007

1772) 'Diverse People Unite! ' South African Ambassador To Turkey Sabizana Mngqikana

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site © Click For Larger Image The South African coat of arms is a multitude of symbols all together under a rising sun; pairs of elephant tusks; ears of wheat; a golden shield; human figures; a crossed knobkerrie and spear; protea (a South Africa plant with W-shaped petals); and a secretary bird. . .

Even South African Ambassador in Ankara Sabizana Mngqikana wouldn't know the meaning of all these symbols. But the motto written on a green stripe stretched between the elephant tusks summarizes this plurality, IKE E: /XARRA //KE." This Khoisan utterance translates as "Diverse people unite!" in English. We visit the ambassador in his rather humble office. Mr. Ambassador is in his fourth year in Ankara and will be returning home in December. His tenure in Ankara has already been extended once, hence he is both knowledgeable about Turkey and quite sure that there won’t be another extension. Ambassador Mngqikana exudes the peaceful presence of an elderly patriarchal figure, but as his memories about Apartheid surface he grows and grows; he becomes a nation in one man, with all its fears, hopes and angers.

Mr. Ambassador, don’t you feel like an ambassador to a distant country? Where is Turkey for a South Africa?

Globalization minimized the idea, or the significance, of distances. Modern technology has made it easier to meet and discuss. The situation between South Africa and Turkey is one of ignorance of our respective potentials of exchange, be it cultural or economic -- or even political, for that matter. This is a problem we both take as our duty to address. One of the objectives of our mission here is to go out and meet the people. I have been to Kayseri, Samsun and Bursa. These are remote cities which once were thought not that important. We should go to these areas and address businesspeople there. In fact we’ve had some success in Bursa. They sent a delegation to South Africa following our visit. There we engaged in a dialogue with the local businessmen; a lot of questions were asked and we gave answers. And then we put them in contact with South Africa companies. So in that sense I am trying to bring down a part of this ignorance. Now it is equally problematic with the South Africans, which I think should be addressed by the Turkish mission in South Africa to make South Africans understand the possibilities in Turkey. Last week (May 8-9) there was this conference by the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUKSON) in İstanbul (the Second Turkey-Africa Trade Bridge Summit). For the first time there was a big delegation of 35 business people from South Africa, which we hope will be a start.

Isn’t there a Muslim community in South Africa? Why the mutual ignorance?

The Muslim community of South Africa was part of the slaves brought to South Africa in the 17th century, before colonialism. Of course South Africa had radical changes from the Dutch colonial power to the British. The Muslim community, which came mainly from Java and the Indonesian islands, still retained some roots within their origins. But since they have been a part of the South Africa social and political structure, their relations with other Muslim countries is limited. They are very active in politics and social issues. They are quite vocal about that. The mayor of Cape Town is Muslim, and he is part of the government structure. He is the chairman of the governing party in the Western Cape Province.

Perhaps South Africa was closed to the world because of the apartheid period.

It has been so. We also advocated South Africa’s isolation, actually. It was part of a tactic so that the ruling white elite supremacists wouldn’t have the comfort of being in the world while discriminating internally. In a way that also affected the mobility of the black people: This is a consequence of the struggle; you have to lose something in the process.

Do you have any problem with religious discrimination?

No, no! If we had that we would have had serious problems in the country, given the racial problem. That would be an exclusive cocktail. Freedom of religion is enshrined in our constitution.

We though that you had rid yourselves of the racial problem.

No, it is not so. It will take time, I am afraid. I must confess that is one of our major problems, actually. We cannot talk of a completely non-racial society yet. We are aspiring toward that. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison. But he was one of the pivotal people for reconciliation between the enemies that were fighting. This was one of the basic principles of the African National Congress (ANC) and the government. If we cannot, then it means disaster. It will have international repercussions. South Africa has a responsibility to succeed.

Is it true that some of the white people in South Africa are still the ‘landlords’ of the country?

Oh yes! That is one of our problems. The economic cake is not evenly distributed. An economist talks about South Africa and makes an analogy of South Africa as a double-decker bus. At the top, there is a group and at the bottom there is another group. The top group is the white elite, with a few blacks there who have made economic benefits even from the change to freedom. The bottom of the bus is only blacks. Now those blacks cannot go up. And this situation is not sustainable, it spells disaster.

The economic power is mainly concentrated in white hands. Now our government is trying to say that we cannot let this continue. We have this Black Economic Empowerment project, by which the government is demanding that there should be an inflow of blacks into the mainstream economy. So they have put certain incentives that white people form partnerships with blacks and work together, so that the blacks can enhance their situation 10 years after freedom. There is an increase of black entrepreneurs and businesspeople, which you wouldn’t have had 10 years ago, but these are people who made some kind of profit from the change of the society to a democratic one. The rest of our people are not there.

The South Africa economy has grown very well in the past five years. The problem is the people that have benefited are not the ordinary people. The government is trying to cope with this problem. One of the criticisms of businessmen is that we lack skills. The economy is growing fast, but we lack skills. So the government has issued 35,000 work permits to mobilize external skills to go and work in South Africa. We’ve also had a few students here in Turkey. We hope these students will acquire certain skills.

Do you have memories of Apartheid? What were you doing then?

I have very bad memories, actually. I was in prison in 1963 to 1964 because I belonged to an illegal organization, the ANC. And so I spent a year in jail. I saw how the blacks were treated in jail. I was not tortured myself. But the way that they were treated made me feel that I should fight against this. I was one of the few Africans who had been to university. But because of my political involvement I was not allowed to continue my studies. Then I got arrested for illegal underground activities. You can’t imagine how being denied opportunities because of the color of my skin made me feel.

I have seen some white Afrikaners that treat black Afrikaners like dead bodies, beat them up and do anything [to them]. I remember one time seeing a black being beaten, and he said thank you [to the white man]. This reduced people to a position of not even knowing who they are, that they are human beings. But today I am a part of the reconciliation structure. When I see some of these racist scenes I get very agitated. We are trying to build a non-racial country, and some other people are busy destroying it. Some of the white South Afrikaners are ungrateful that there is a hand of friendship that the Africans have extended. They don’t want to take that. Now if you say this, they say, “Why do you tell us something that happened 10 years ago?” But it has been 300 years of continuous suppression of black people. They are complaining about 10 years of being reminded about what they did!

This sort of thing makes Africans angry. We are trying to befriend you; we are trying to forget the past and you are busy undoing that! Take our national days, for example. They (white people) don’t participate in them -- it’s just blacks!

Do they have a fear of reverse discrimination?

No, we are trying to reach them. The community is trying to build a non-racial society, but they want to keep their privileges. When you ask to take away the privileges, they say that it is reverse racism. They want to keep everything. Look at the land issue. There must be a division of land so that the black people can have land also. Eighty percent of the land is owned by whites. That is unfair when 80 percent of the population is black. But they don’t want to sell, they intentionally inflate the prices. That is an explosive situation. People want to use the Zimbabwe example. Some of the black agitators say: “Zimbabwe did something good. Why don’t you do the same thing?” But we cannot allow that kind of thing. Now the government is pressuring the white land owners.

When you are walking in the streets in Turkey, do you feel different?

Listen, the color issue is peculiar to Africa and probably to America. I have not experienced any hostility in Turkey. On the contrary, places like Kayseri reminded me of countryside in South Africa. The ordinary people, through their emotions, you feel yourself a part of them. In fact one of them in Bursa calls me “my uncle.” I was rather impressed with the hospitality you get in the Turkish countryside. We have the same values in South Africa. I don’t believe that certain traditional values are not relevant to today’s society.

Is there anything that you have seen in Turkey and liked it so much that you said ‘We should have this in my country’?

When I came here, we were taken to the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), and I was impressed with the program. I even recommended to a department in the Foreign Affairs [Ministry] to send people from depressed areas to come and learn how Turkey is trying to solve the issue of depressed areas. The involvement of women in the GAP area with weaving carpets and lots of other minor things is impressing. I thing we need a GAP in my country.

Also the cleanliness here strikes me. I don’t know whether Turks have environmental consciousness or not. But clearly there is a difference here. In my country some people just throw things out without any regard for others. You find plastic bags thrown around. It makes an ugly scene; it kills tourism.

What about tourism between Turkey and South Africa?

This is one of the areas we are trying to explore. We are trying to bring some of the South African tourism companies here. With the resumption of direct flights from Turkish Airlines, in September, it will increase. That is a good signal for the tourism strategy. Turkey has one of the best tourist industries in the world. We can learn a lot from the Turkish experience.
Bilateral trade relations

Turkey is SA's largest trade and investment partner in Central and Eastern Europe, including the Russian Federation. According to Turkish trade statistics, total bilateral trade for 2006 amounted to almost $2.4 billion, roughly three-to-one in SA's favor. Total trade for 2006 increased by 52 percent over 2005, with South African exports to Turkey showing an increase of 42 percent during the same period.

Bilateral trade statistics *

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006

SA EXPORTS 0.207 0.328 1.003 1.258 1.791

SA IMPORTS 0.850 0.121 0.190 0.316 0.598

TOTAL TRADE 0.292 0.449 1.193 1.574 2.389

TRADE SURPLUS 0.122 0.207 0.813 0.942 1.193

* $ billion



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