The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s governing political party, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Turkey’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) on August 1, 2019 in Ankara during an ANC delegation visit to Turkey.
Signed by Cevdet Yılmaz, AKP deputy chairman responsible for foreign affairs, and Ace Magashule, secretary-general of the ANC, the MOU reportedly includes cooperation in the field of education, the promotion of trade and other areas.
Calling the AKP a “sister party,” the ANC’s national spokesperson, Pule Mabe, issued a written statement saying, “To ensure that this memorandum is a living document, both parties have agreed that it will be tied to specific timeframes and evaluation intervals.”
The MOU signed with an Islamist party in Turkey, where unprecedented rights violations have been perpetrated against critics and Kurds by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sparked a number of discussions within the ANC, a member of Socialist International, Nordic Monitor has learned.
A party member who spoke on condition of anonymity told Nordic Monitor that signing an agreement with the AKP, which has been implicated in human rights violations, was not adequately discussed within the party.
The party member also argued that close relations with Erdoğan and his party are not good for South Africa in international platforms and will damage efforts to conduct foreign policy, in which human rights will remain a central theme in interactions with other countries.
Experts remind that heroic leader of the black South African resistance to apartheid and former president of the ANC Nelson Mandela previously had declined a peace prize from Turkey on the grounds that human rights violations were committed against the Kurdish minority in Turkey.
Another factor that would seem to pose a danger to South Africa’s position in the region and counterterrorism efforts in sub-Saharan Africa is that the Maarif Foundation, a Turkish-government-funded entity, intends to expand its education network in South Africa. Maarif management is filled with partisans and Islamists, some of whom have connections to the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), a charity group that is linked to radical armed groups including al-Qaeda in Syria and Libya.
The ANC delegation to Turkey visited the Maarif Foundation and met with South African university students at the foundation’s offices.
Nordic Monitor previously revealed that Maarif is branded as a pet project of Turkey’s Islamist President Erdoğan and serves as his regime’s long arm abroad in providing educational services as part of a campaign of proselytization. It also aims to raise a new generation of political Islamist activists to mobilize around Erdoğan. Video footage has emerged from Africa and other parts of the world that shows students at Maarif schools chanting and praying for Erdoğan during election campaigns in Turkey.
Adem Koc, director of the Maarif Foundation in South Africa, told the state-run Anadolu news agency in March that they had received a good response from the South African government to their proposal to open schools and a university.
“We are looking for existing schools from the government or private sector which we shall take over and run,’’ Koç said.
Koç recently told South African Muslim newspaper Al-Qalam: “There will be a masjid [prayer hall or small mosque] on the premises of every institution but built by private individuals who have pledged their commitment. The Foundation will respond to opportunities for the provision of Islamic education to its students who require it but outside of the school programme, akin to the Maktab system.” The newspaper ran the interview under the headline “Billions to be spent on ‘legitimate’ Turkish schools across South Africa.”
It is no secret that the reason the Erdoğan government established the Maarif Foundation is to seize and take control of schools around the world run by the Gülen movement, a civic group that promotes inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and peaceful interpretation of Islam.
While Maarif has so far gained a foothold in a few African, relatively corrupt, countries, Europe remains skeptical about these institutions. Peter Pilz, a prominent Austrian politician with a long career in the Green Party, said, “We were surprised ourselves when we saw that Erdoğan’s Turkey has built a tightly meshed spy network from Japan to the Netherlands, from Kenya to the U.K.”
“In every single state, a huge spy network consisting of associations, clubs, and mosques is being employed via the embassy, the religious attaché, and the local intelligence officer in order to spy on Erdogan critics around the clock,” Foreign Policy magazine reported on May 7.
On October 10, 2018 in a strongly worded resolution recently adopted by the Council of Europe (CoE), the Erdoğan government’s attempt to export political Islam to Europe was condemned. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) urged member states to “put an end to any foreign funding of Islam which is used for the purpose of national political expansion into other States under the guise of Islam.” The resolution, which was adopted by a vote of 115 to 10 with four abstentions, said foreign funding of political Islam as Erdoğan and others have been advocating “should not be allowed in Council of Europe member states.”
Another Nordic Monitor source in South Africa’s Ministry of Home Affairs who prefers to remain anonymous said Turkish officials are allegedly in pursuit of residence permits for a large number of pro-AKP people to expand their presence there and hopefully settle permanently by eventually acquiring South African citizenship. The source said some AKP figures may also be looking a Plan B in case the Erdoğan regime is toppled.
Meanwhile, Turkish Ambassador to South Africa Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen bragged about the MoU, immediately retweeting the ANC’s announcement and adding, “This is a breakthrough in Turkey-South Africa bilateral relations.”
This is a breakthrough in Turkey-South Africa bilateral relations. Wishing a long and mutually beneficial relationship to both countries ???? https://t.co/FkNoxnPbzn
— Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen (@UlgenElif) August 1, 2019
Ülgen, a civil servant and diplomat whose salary is paid by Turkish taxpayers who vote for various political parties, gives the impression she only represents the ruling AKP, although she is supposed to be bipartisan in her conduct of diplomatic representation abroad. She is a typical example of Turkey’s present-day secular bureaucrats who serve as window dressing and work as operatives of the Erdoğan regime, which has already undermined Turkey’s secular state, in order to stay in the job as long as possible.