Comparative Study Visit To South Africa – Supporting Inclusive Dialogue At A Challenging Time In Turkey

  • Reports

Between the 9th and 16th of July 2019, DPI carried out a comparative study visit (CSV) on the theme “Bringing a process back on track: Lessons Learnt from the South Africa experience”. The purpose of the visit was to provide a diverse group of influencers from Turkey the opportunity to learn from the period of negotiations to end Apartheid in South Africa and give participants the platform with which to engage in dialogue and discussion with speakers and amongst each other. The study visit, which took the participants to Johannesburg, Soweto, Pretoria and Cape Town, provided access to key protagonists during the times leading up to the negotiations, the negotiations themselves and the resulting state of post-apartheid South Africa. Participants engaged with the first-hand experiences of these actors, from each major political standpoint, who played significant roles in the conflict resolution process and continue to play important roles today. Through these carefully planned series of meetings, the group were exposed to the major successes and challenges encountered during the peace process spearheaded by F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela respectively. The experiences shared and discussions with the group led to insightful lessons being learnt and a deeper understanding of conflict resolution processes being forged.

The event, as well as providing an overview of the process in South Africa, examined many different key themes. Discussion focussed on conditions that enabled negotiations to begin – dubbed ‘talks before talks’ – as the well as the formal process of the negotiations themselves. The architecture of the South African peace process was also explored whereby participants heard about who was involved and how they engaged with each other. The role of media and security structures in the peace process was examined in separate sessions. An overarching theme of the CSV was looking at how to keep the process going even during the most difficult times – with a particular focus on the breakdown period and subsequent resumption of the negotiations between the African National Congress and the National Party. Participants also engaged with speakers on the subject of drafting a new South African Constitution and Bill of Rights which would safeguard the rights of each individual citizen in South Africa. Finally, participants discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up in the wake of apartheid as a means of seeking justice for all victims of the conflict.

Participants visited Soweto, the largest township in Johannesburg, to see the house of former President Nelson Mandela. It was important for participants to see the modest surroundings of the man who espoused inclusion and dialogue as part of the process to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. This was an invaluable way to begin the week-long event as it grounded the participants in the historic and troubled nature of the peace process in the country during the 1990’s.

The first day of meetings (10th June) began with a welcome from DPI CEO Kerim Yildiz before Roelf Meyer, former Chief Negotiator for the government and Director of ITI provided the group with an overview of the transition to democracy in South Africa. Here Mr Meyer explained the founding principle of the peace process was safeguarding individual right on an equal basis for all. In the following session Mohammed Bhabha, ANC negotiator and former Member of Parliament and the ANC’s Ebrahim Ebrahim, former Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation shared the experience of their roles in the period both prior to and during the negotiations that eventually led to apartheid being brought to an end. These meetings included lively Q and A sessions as participants found themselves exploring the multiple facets of the resolution process in South Africa and served as a good foundation from which they would build upon during the rest of the comparative study visit. To round off the first day of meetings proper, Sydney Mufamadi, former Minister of Safety and Security, spoke about the architecture of the South African peace process whereby participants heard about who was involved and how they engaged with each other.

On 11th June, Nel Marais, gave a frank and insightful presentation on the role of security structures in the South African peace process. Of particular interest to the group was the shift in approach of the intelligence structures during the talks period as they moved to keep all parties, particularly the ANC and NP, informed of information that could harm the negotiations. The next session saw Dr Michael Sutcliffe, former Chair of the Municipal Demarcation Board appointed by President Mandela, discuss the challenges faced by the peace process following outbreaks of local violence. He went on to cite the continuation of dialogue as the most important factor in such difficult times. The afternoon session was delivered by Mathews Phosa, former Premier of Mpumalanga and former Member, National Executive Committee, African National Congress. In a highly informative session, Mr Phosa shared with participants the lessons that can be learnt from the South African experience with a particular focus on resuming dialogue in the aftermath of the breakdowns in negotiations.

On the final day in Pretoria Mr Jody Kollapen, Judge, High Court of South Africa discussed the constitutional making process and the session gave participants the opportunity to discuss the construction of the new South African constitution as part of the agreement to bring an end to apartheid. The group heard about the inclusive nature of the constitution which was drawn up to protect the rights of each individual in South Africa.

We were then delighted to be hosted at the residence of Elif Çomoğlu Ulgen, the Turkish Ambassador to South Africa. The Ambassador provided a brief on the Embassy’s work in South Africa and the relationship between Turkey and South Africa and the mutual benefit that can be wrought from one another. The group then visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. This further immersion in the story of South Africa added extra layers of detail and stark visual symbols of the challenges and struggles that were overcome through a course of inclusive dialogue.

Thursday 13th June marked our first day in Cape Town and we were joined by two speakers, namely Fanie du Toit, Former Executive Director, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Kraai van Niekerk, former Minister of Agriculture for the NP government. First of all, Fanie du Toit delivered a very informative session in which participants discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There were important lessons to be learnt about who justice was for and what its purpose was. Mr du Toit also reasserted that no one method can be completely transferrable from one case to another as each conflict includes its own context, histories and nuances. The afternoon session moved on to discuss Kraai van Niekerk’s experiences as a government minister for the National Party before keeping his post under Nelson Mandela until 1996. As Minister, he discussed the challenges that still abound in the country around land ownership and reform. This demonstrated that peace is an ongoing process and that challenges and difficulties remain beyond the signing of formal agreements and the laying down of arms.

The discussion about the constitutional making process continued with Albie Sachs, former Judge, Constitutional Court of South Africa and Johnny de Lange, Former Deputy Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development. In a stimulating and engaging presentation, Albie Sachs talked about the circumstances and motivations behind his drafting of the first ever Bill of Rights in South African history. He described this document as containing ubuntu – a philosophical word with a rich history in South Africa, which he defined as ‘a world inside each human being and the dignity that each human being is entitled to have’. Johnny de Lange discussed the ANC’s transition from a liberation movement into a political party. This included an examination of the current difficulties the party faces as its focus shifts from promoting peace and equality to balancing post-conflict economic and social challenges.

As is usual DPI practice, a formal evaluation session was held to garner the views and opinions of participants on the lessons learnt over the course of the visit as well as their suggestions for follow-up activities and future work with DPI. In a very productive session, participants expressed their appreciation at the opportunities they had had to engage with key actors in the resolution process in South Africa as well as the importance and usefulness of the content shared by speakers during the visit. Participants were impressed by many of the methods and mechanisms for peacebuilding employed in the South Africa case and discussed their varying relevance for their own context in Turkey. Discussing further themes that would be valuable to explore further with core groups, participants pointed towards the role of women, the media and youth as good topics to engage with experts from the South African process on.

This Comparative Study Visit also allowed participants to engage with prominent people and visit important sites over the course of the trip. On the final morning of the activity, the group took the ferry out to Robben Island to visit the prison which housed a great number of political prisoners over the course of the struggles in South Africa. We were honoured to be accompanied by Ebrahim Ebrahim who, as an inmate, spent 18 years in total on the island. In guiding participants around the prison grounds, he pointed out fellow prisoner Nelson Mandela’s cell, talked of the discrimination enforced by authorities even between Indian and black prisoners and discussed the symbolic moment when Mandela was eventually freed in 1990. As Mr Ebrahim noted, his release marked a turn away from oppression and an opening up of channels for dialogue between the ANC and NP.

Amongst the guests to join us at dinner were journalists Peter Fabricius and Liesl Louw-Vaudran; Yunus Carrim, MP and former Deputy Minister of Communications; Ambassadors to South Africa from Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland as well as representative from the Norwegian and European Union Embassies. We were greatly honoured by their attendance and engagement with participants. These encounters offered the chance for more informal discussions which leads to the transfer of insightful knowledge not always achieved through a meeting room set-up. Additionally, these occasions, among others, facilitated further bonding between participants themselves. They were afforded the time to talk informally with those whom they would not normally find themselves sharing such experiences with. It is through these encounters, more often than not, that participants form the foundation of relationships upon which deeper and more difficult discussions addressing their differences and divides can take place in the future.

Overall, the CSV was useful and provided participants with the opportunity to discuss the current situation in Turkey and how to share their learning with wider constituencies and their own institutions. Both group discussions, as well as our own side meetings with participants prove that the dialogue amongst themselves and with DPI are highly important. The event has been covered positively in Turkish media and the articles that have been written, along with a photo gallery and brief summary report, can be found on DPI’s website: www.democraticprogress.org.