THY withdrew following the Southern 2002 summer. The primary reason was more commercial then anything. Air carrier service to South Africa had increased significantly during the previous years dumping lots of seats in the market driving down yields. In addition the worldwide decline in travel following 9/11 further hurt the routes performance.
Overall with a rebound of worldwide travel, and a stabilization of service to South Africa the carrier now feels it can successfully operate the route again. While there is minimal O&D between Turkey and South Africa, THY can leverage it Istanbul hub to provide a wide range of connection opportunities.
As far as the Nelson Mandela and Ataturk award story, it dates back to the early 1990s when Nelson Mandela refused the award on grounds the then ANC
leader felt Turkey itself was a form of apartheid state for its treatment of its minorities. Since then however Mr Mandela has apologized and recognized the award itself named after modern Turkeys founder Kemal Ataturk is reflective and tribute to Turkeys continued advancement and modernity, and was meant to show Turkey's respect to Mandela himself and the South African people.