South Africa Renews Calls to Decolonize Western Sahara
The South African Development Committee Ministers Solidarity Conference with Sahara met in Pretoria, South Africa on March 25 and 26 to issue a public declaration in support of decolonizing the Western Sahara. The SADC Solidarity Conference was convened to provide express support for Saharawi self-determination in line with the principles set out in the United Nations Charter and relevant documents within the Organization of African Unity and the African Union.
“This conference is a clear demonstration of our international solidarity with the Saharawi people in their quest for self-determination,” said South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
The Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that was annexed by Morocco in 1975. It has been the subject of a long-running border dispute between Morocco and Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) which claims to be the true representative of the Saharawi people. Despite its assertions of sovereignty, Morocco maintains a buffer zone within the territory containing landmines and fortifications that separate the Morocco-administered western territory and the territory controlled by the Polisario Front, which has declared the SADR the true sovereign over the territory.
In the eyes of conference attendees, the occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco represents a lingering instance of European-style colonization, and decolonization of the continent will be complete until the Saharawi gain independence.
“No one can bestow freedom on the Saharawi people, for freedom is their birthright, which no one can keep from them and which they must claim as their own,” said Namibian President and Chairperson of the SADC Hage Geingob.
While the conference represented growing momentum toward a unified African and global response to the issue of Western Saharan independence, Morocco appears to be willing to hold onto its claim of sovereignty in the area. At the same time the SADC conference was being convened, Morocco held a parallel meeting in opposition.
Geingob predicted that, “the prolonged impasse on the Western Sahara issue will have grave consequences on the functioning of our African Union.”
While the conference has ended, the issue of Western Saharan independence will continue to remain relevant in African politics. A resolution was passed at the conference which resolved to have the issue brought up with a progress report at all future meetings of the African Union.