A retrospective glance on Turkey’s strong bond with South Africa

by Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in South Africa

29 October 2020

Today, we have the honour to celebrate the 97th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey and to share this joy with our South African friends.

As the world battles with COVID-19, the Turkish Embassy in Pretoria is striving to strike a difficult balance between fully resuming our duties and respecting all rules of social distancing to keep everybody safe. Therefore, it is bittersweet for us to only celebrate our national day through virtual platforms, since this year at the height of the pandemic, we cannot risk inviting all our citizens and the friends of Turkey for a worthy celebration we have come to enjoy each year.

As the Turkish Ambassador in South Africa, I had the utmost pleasure to host the Republic Day for the fourth time in Pretoria. As I look back on this special day, I take great pride in baring witness to the unfolding of the quiet evolution of our bilateral relations with South Africa.

On its 97th anniversary, Turkish foreign policy confronts challenges that would have been quite unimaginable only 10 years ago. Yet we are excited to discover the true impact of the outreach of our interactions all across the world, with those who genuinely understand and empathize with Turkey, irrespective of the distances in geography.

This is exactly the kind of transformation that we are currently going through in our bilateral relations. Even when the pandemic made it seem like our diplomatic relations were losing ground, we realized that our worries and joys are one and the same. South Africa now has a clear understanding of Turkey’s reflexes about national security, justice and humanitarian affairs. We now have a much more profound understanding of each other’s priorities and goals, which has led us to establish a more meaningful dialogue. This has been exemplified on multiple occasions, with the measured attitude adopted by South Africa on issues concerning Turkey, ranging from Hagia Sophia to the Syrian refugees. South Africa remains aloof and distanced itself from attempts at smear campaigns against Turkey.

A concrete sign of our progressing relations is the increase in the number of tourists. Before the pandemic hit, the number of South African tourists visiting Turkey has increased by 45% between 2016 and 2019. I am a firm believer of human-to-human interactions and their capacity to build bridges across vast distances. Thus, I will continue to push to bring our people together.

Turkish Airlines merits a special mention here, as they connect South Africa to Turkey. Following the lifting of ban on international travels, we are happy to welcome the hospitality of our national flag carrier.

I would also like to note the harmonious cooperation we had between the official institutions and of our Embassies in Ankara and Pretoria in repatriating stranded citizens during the fully-fledged lockdown.

There is an increasing number of South Africans who want to study in Turkey. I see them as Turkey’s natural Ambassadors who will return to their country with the fondest memories.

Another major development that gave an extra boost to our bilateral relations despite the pandemic, is the opening of our Consulate General in Cape Town. This was a long time in the making and the appointment of our new Consul General will help us reach further than before.

Our relations are progressing and we owe this to the immensely welcoming South Africans.

I would like to extend my warmest greetings to all who celebrate this day of glory with us. With the confidence of the distance we have so far covered in our bilateral ties, I have no doubt that greater cooperation is ahead.

I remain fully convinced that we can build yet deeper bonds with the wonderful people of South Africa.