25.5.2013 – MESOP / SES – Journalists, academics and deputies from the BDP, CHP and AKP visited South Africa to research the country’s conflict resolution process and transition to democracy. As part of the ongoing peace process between the Turkish government and Kurdish movement, policy makers and writers participated in a comparative study visit to learn about apartheid and South Africa’s conflict resolution process.

Organised by the Democratic Progress Institute and hosted by the South African government in early May, participants included AKP deputies Nursuna Memecan, Mehmet Tekelioğlu and Burhan Kayatürk, CHP deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Levent Gök, and BDP deputies Nazmi Gür, Ayla Akat and Ertuğrul Kürkçü. Journalists, academics and some members of the Wise People Commission also attended, including Cengiz Çandar, Bejan Matur, Ahmet İnsel, Havva Kök, Mehmet Asutay, Hatem Ete, Yılmaz Ensaroğlu, Mithat Sancar and Ali Bayramoğlu.

The participants met with key individuals involved in South Africa’s transition to democracy, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, former South Africa Minister of Defence and chief negotiator for the South African government, Roelf Meyer, and numerous other high-level players within South Africa’s government, political parties and democratic institutions, who shared their direct and personal experiences of democratic change within South Africa.

Speaking to SES Türkiye, members of the delegation said that while the experience of South Africa is different from Turkey, the country’s reconciliation process and transition to democracy nonetheless provides some insight into a successful peace process.

Apartheid, meaning “separateness” in the Afrikaans language, was an extreme form of racial, political and economic segregation that governed South Africa from 1948 to 1994 under the National Party government controlled by white Afrikaners, the descendents of 17th century Dutch settlers in South Africa.

Faced with mounting international pressure, economic sanctions and public protests, President Fredrick Willem de Klerk abolished apartheid as part of secret negotiations with jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela.

The negotiations ultimately led to South Africa’s first multi-party, multi-ethnic democratic elections in 1994 bringing Mandela to the helm of an ANC-led government. After an interim constitution to lead the peaceful transition, South Africa adopted a new democratic constitution in 1997.

To foster social reconciliation and atone for the past the country implemented a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is widely viewed as a successful component of the peace process.

Under the commission, those who had rights abuses committed against them gave testimony that was made public. Those who committed abuses were also offered the opportunity to bring to light their acts and apologize in exchange for amnesty from civil or criminal prosecution. The process helped heal deep wounds, built bridges in society and let the country move on from its troubled past.

For CHP deputy Levent Gok, the situation in South Africa and Turkey are different because in South Africa there was an extreme form of state implemented segregation while in Turkey there is no desire to segregate people as Turks and Kurds are co-founders of the state.

Arguing that in a peace and new constitution drafting process “representative” democracy is important, Gok said a solution should be found peacefully within parliament. Nazmi Gur, a BDP deputy from Van, told  that while many things in South Africa are different than Turkey, two points are applicable. “The first is the role of Mandela in the solution process and the second is a new constitution. During the solution process the truth and reconciliation commission played a large role. The commission almost carried out one-on-one work, bringing those that had been abused with those who committed torture. As part of a solution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey, a truth and reconciliation commission should be established,” Gur said.

Mithat Sancar, a member of the Wise People Commission for the Marmara region, told that although the situation in South Africa is different than Turkey, there are some similarities from which Turkey could learn. In particular, Sancar said Turkey will need a similar institution to the truth and reconciliation commission.

If the peace process in Turkey advances, the country will need something similar to a truth and reconciliation commission, Sancar said.

Sancar said the exact nature of such a commission and its role in Turkey is still unclear and would need to take into account the particular situation in Turkey, adding that South Africa developed its own model after researching similar commissions in Argentina and Chile.

“In South Africa those that admitted to committing crimes were given amnesty, but how it will be in Turkey still needs to be discussed. Here in Turkey, will there be a general amnesty or amnesty for those who admit to crimes in front of a commission? All of this needs to be discussed but such a commission should be established,” Sancar said.