South Africa and Morocco will resume diplomatic ties more than a decade after Morocco withdrew its ambassador from Pretoria, South African President Jacob Zuma said in a newspaper interview.
Morocco recalled its ambassadorin 2004 after former South African president Thabo Mbeki recognised a breakaway region in Western Sahara which Morocco claims as part of its territory.
“Morocco is an African nation and we need to have relations with them,” Zuma told City Press. “We never had problems with them; they were the first to withdraw diplomatic relations.”
Zuma met Morocco’s King Mohammed last week on the sidelines of an African Union-European Union summit.
“They felt even if we differ on Western Sahara issues, the two countries should have a relationship,” Zuma said about Moroccan officials’ position at the meeting.
South Africa’s official government position – as re-affirmed by Zuma in one of his state of the nation addresses – is to support “self-determination and decolonisation for Western Sahara”.
The decision to re-establish ties with Morocco is likely to go down badly in South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, of which Zuma is leader.
The ANC – as one of Africa’s oldest liberation movements – has long backed those seeking independence in Western Sahara and accused Morocco of occupying the region.
A spokesman for South Africa’s foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.
Morocco controlled most of Western Sahara, rich in phosphates and has seen some initial oil exploration efforts, since 1975. A ceasefire in 1991 called for a referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara, but the vote never took place.