In solidarity with the Saharawi people in their fight for independence, South Africa has called for decisive steps to close the chapter on this last vestige of occupation and colonialism on the African continent.
Pretoria sees the lack of solution in the Western Sahara quagmire as an impediment towards greater regional integration and security cooperation in the Maghreb region.
“Our own liberation and the liberation of our continent will not be complete without the liberation of Western Sahara. I therefore wish to reiterate our solidarity with the Saharawi people in their struggle for self-determination and independence.
“The people of Western Sahara need to express their own aspirations and we [South Africa] will be supportive. There cannot be any mistake with the determination of the Saharawi people to gain their own self-determination and independence. In the end, they are the ones suffering and in refugee camps,” said President Ramaphosa in Tshwane on Tuesday.
The President was addressing the media after official talks with Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) President, Brahim Ghali, who is on a working visit to the country.
Ghali’s visit, which the two countries described as “comradely and fruitful”, was aimed at further strengthening and consolidating relations between South Africa and the SADR, which is located in northwest Africa. It is bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to northeast and Mauritania to the east and south-east.
Western Sahara is Africa’s longest-running territorial dispute and an issue of continental and international law and diplomatic controversy, having been on the decolonisation agenda of the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) for more than 50 years.
Morocco contends that the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, is an integral part of its kingdom, mainly driven by the expansionist ideology of the so-called “Greater Morocco”.
On the other side, the Polisario Front, which is campaigning for the territory’s independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.
The AU has maintained over the years the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. It has called on the UN to determine a date for the holding of the self-determination referendum for the people of Western Sahara, a view that Pretoria has also been also vocal about.
Mobilising for change
Morocco’s admission to the African Union in January 2017 was received with the expectation that it would contribute to finding a speedy solution to the decolonisation conflict in Western Sahara. However, Morocco has persisted in its illegal military occupation of parts of Western Sahara territory.
This prompted the 30th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly held in January to adopt the resolution for the re-launching of the negotiation process between Western Sahara and Morocco without preconditions in direct and serious talks to put an end to their conflict under its Special Envoy, former President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique.
However, Morocco has been persistent in its opposition to any involvement of the AU in the peace process.
Responding to AU’s perceived slow response in addressing the Western Sahara challenges, President Ramaphosa said: “The AU has no choice but to subscribe to its own constitutive acts, which indicate that there should be no country in the continent that colonises another.”
The United Security Council recently adopted resolution 2414 (2018) to extend the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara for a period of six months.
The Secretary General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, is set to lead the parties and mobilise the international community to implement all UN resolutions on Western Sahara, including the recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2414.
President Ramaphosa has expressed South Africa’s full support and confidence in the efforts undertaken, certain that the people of Western Sahara will soon be free.
Turning to their official talks, which were aimed at reviewing bilateral cooperation between the two countries and exchange views on issues of common interest and mutual concern, the two Heads of State reiterated their “unbreakable bond”, which they said is brought together by a shared vision of a better Africa and a better world.
“We have just concluded productive discussions, underpinned by the strong friendship and solidarity between our two countries and peoples. We have agreed to deepen our relations and strengthen cooperation across a number of fields,” President Ramaphosa said.
Among others, the two Heads of State reflected on a number of areas of bilateral cooperation, including the Memorandum of Understanding on technical and humanitarian assistance.
According to President Ramaphosa, this memorandum provides for humanitarian assistance from South Africa to assist the people of Western Sahara in refugee camps, which have been home to tens of thousands of Saharawi refugees for decades.
“We believe that the protracted humanitarian crisis in the refugee camps is a direct consequence of the delay in finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Western Sahara.”
President Ghali described the visit as a meeting of two allies, friends and comrades in struggle.
Speaking through an interpreter, he said the meeting was fruitful, as it allowed them an opportunity to learn and exchange views.
“We found… a principled and fair position in support for Saharawi to recover its sovereignty,” Ghali said, thanking the government and the people of South Africa for their continued support over the years.
He vowed that the Saharawi people will not back down in their struggle for self-determination. Instead, he urged the Moroccans — being a member state of the AU — to oblige by the rules, especially in the use of force to resolve conflict.
Ghali said he took lessons on growing the economy and industries. Already the two countries have thus far concluded agreements in the fields of diplomacy; sports development; technical cooperation; and humanitarian assistance.
On international issues of common interests, the two Presidents condemned in the strongest possible terms all forms of terrorism and extremism and committed themselves to playing their part in resolving the peace and security challenges on the continent.
The leaders reiterated the need for the reform of multilateral institutions, including the UN Security Council, to better represent the interests of the global South and Africa in particular.