Speech by Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers on the occasion of a Public Dialogue on the struggle for independence of Western Sahara from Morocco, 15 March 2017, Parliament, Cape Town

Chairperson of Portfolio Committee, Hon Masango
Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Trade and International Relations (National Council of Provinces)
Honourable Members of Parliament (National Assembly and National Council of Provinces)
Your Excellency Ambassador, HE Radhi Sghaiar Bachir (Western Sahara)
Your Excellency Ambassador, HE Mr Abd-EL-Naceur Belaid (Algeria)
Members of the Diplomatic Corp
General Keith Mokwape, Chairperson of Friends of Western Sahara
Dr Jose Nascimento, our International Law expert
Esteemed Guests and Panelists
Leadership of the Alliance Structures and Civil Society
Comrades and Friends
Ladies and gentlemen

2017 has been declared the year of OR Tambo by our President. Comrade OR Tambo who was our longest serving ANC President, shaped our current foreign policy and the principles of international solidarity with oppressed nations including Western Sahara. This international solidarity is now an integral part of our foreign policy.

Throughout his life, OR was a staunch supporter and ardent campaigner for the Western Sahara cause. In his address to the Heads of State and Governments of the Non-Aligned Countries in 1979 in Havana, Cuba, he said:

“The experience of the people of Western Sahara is the first kind of experience that we can think of since the struggle for decolonisation started in Africa. No African country that we know of has done what has been done to the people of Western Sahara…  We have no doubt that the struggle of the people of Western Sahara will be victorious”.

In paying tribute to our great leader OR, I am honoured to co-host this dialogue in partnership with Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation. Given the dynamic changes in the international political environment we have chosen the theme:

“The role of South Africa in mobilising the international community in pursuit of the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)”.

Historical Background

Comrades and Friends, Morocco’s territorial claims to Western Sahara dates back to the late 1950s. After gaining independence from France in 1956, Morocco embraced an expansionist ideology that sought to create a “Greater Morocco”.

As the Spanish were preparing to leave Western Sahara in the early 70's Morocco turned its attention to Western Sahara. Since the mid-60’s the UN had denounced the colonial domination of the then Spanish Sahara, and to allow its people to exercise their right to self-determination.  However, the conclusion of the disingenuous Madrid Accord in 1975 between Spain and Morocco ensured Spain's withdrawal from Western Sahara and provided an opportunity for Morocco to claim, annex and invade parts of Western Sahara. Inevitably this provoked the resistance war by the people of Western Sahara through the Polisario Front. The rest is history.

In 1975 the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued a ruling that neither Morocco (nor Mauritania) had any right to occupy the territory of Western Sahara.

In 1983 the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) adopted, amongst others, the Peace Plan that sought to bring to an end the armed conflict as POLISARIO continued to fight for its people’s right to self-determination. However, the Polisario Front accepted the settlement proposals which were presented by the UN, in line with the AU Peace Plan, with the hope of ending the stalemate. In 1991 the UN established the United Nations Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO) and the Polisario ended its armed conflict in lieu of the referendum.

Democratic South Africa has always supported the decisions of the UN (referendum for self-determination) and AU including the latter’s appointment of former President Chissano as Special Envoy for Western Sahara. 

Human rights violations

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a known fact that Morocco continues to violate international law and the civil, political and socio economic rights of the Saharawi people including, freedom of expression, association, land and self-determination.

The refusal by Morocco to implement the UN and the AU decisions on the Western Sahara referendum is in itself a human rights violation. This is compounded by the continued exploration and exploitation of natural resources in the occupied territories while the majority of the Saharawi people languish in poverty. 

During his address at a High-Level Event on the side-lines of the UN Human Rights Council on 01 March 2017, the AU’s Special Envoy on Western Sahara, former President Chissano stated:

“Saharawi’s who express pro-independence views, who work on human rights activities, or who defend the territory’s natural resources against plunder continue to face a particular pattern of harassment, political imprisonment and judicial abuse”.

This is in contravention of the December 2016 ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) which stated, among others, that agreements between the EU and Morocco on trade liberalisation shall exclude resources of the occupied territories of Western Sahara. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and the UN Security Council (UNSC) as well as other international human rights organisations have also condemned this state of affairs.

South Africa’s solidarity and support of the Western Sahara cause:

Comrades and Friends,

Our support for the freedom of the Saharawi's dates back to our own struggle against apartheid. Our own experiences of struggle, international solidarity and transition is what informs our policy position to the Western Sahara conflict.

When addressing the 53rd United Nations General Assembly, former President Nelson Mandela said:

“We also look forward to the resolution of the outstanding issues of Western Sahara… convinced that it is possible to take these matters off the world agenda on the basis of settlements that meet the interests of all the peoples concerned”.

For our part since we took a decision to recognise the SADR, South Africa has continued to render support to and lobby for the Saharawi cause on all multilateral platforms such as SADC, AU, UN, G77, BRICs and NAM amongst others.

We have also provided technical and humanitarian assistance to the SADR through our African Renaissance Fund (ARF).

Through our Department of Arts and Culture we have supported the Western Saharawi Film Festival (FISAHARA) and also signed an Agreement with the Government of the SADR in the fields of Arts.

Earlier this year, President Jacob Zuma hosted President Brahim Ghali of the SADR during his Working Visit to South Africa and re-affirmed our solidarity and unity with the Saharawi people.

Future engagements

The ANC 2017 January 8 statement was unequivocal on our future engagements and position on the resolution of the Western Sahara issue. In this regard the National Executive Committee (NEC) statement states:

“We remain unwavering in our support for an independent and free Western Sahara. We shall continue to offer concrete support and solidarity for the programmes of the Polisario Front”.

As a government, we welcome the decision by the UN to extend MINURSO’s mandate to include monitoring and reporting on human rights developments. We call for the return of its civilian staff following their expulsion by Morocco. (Thus far of the approximately 80 staff members only 25 have returned to discharge their mission).

We will continue to utilise our membership of the Geneva Support Group for Western Sahara to mobilise international support. (This forum consists of the Permanent Representatives to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) from like-minded countries as well as a Member of the American Association of Jurists).

We will continue to mobilise the international community to call for the expediting of the referendum on self-determination.

Furthermore, we will continue to assist and share our experiences in peaceful settlement of conflict because any further delay in finding a lasting solution has consequences for peace and security in Africa.

Admission of Morocco to the AU 

Ladies and gentlemen

Permit me to also reflect on the importance of Morocco’s recent admission to the AU in January 2017. Morocco left the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 in protest against the OAU’s recognition of the SADR. In 2016 it decided that it wanted to become part of the AU.

South Africa together with mainly SADC countries, Algeria and Uganda opposed its application on the basis that it needed to first comply with Article 3 & 4 of the AU Constitutive Act, i.e. recognition of the SADR and its inaliable right to self-determination. Regrettably, the majority of the AU supported Morocco’s application even though there is still no indication that its position on the issue of independence and self-determination had changed. The majority of AU member states believe that it would be better to persuade Morocco from within the AU.

However, it remains to be seen whether Morocco will abide by the provisions of the AU Constitutive Act, particularly Article three (3) and four (4) which promotes sovereignty, mutual and peaceful coexistence of members of the Union. 

The Way Forward

Comrades and Friends,

All indications are that Morocco’s decision to be part of the AU was not an overnight damascian change in favour of the Saharawi right to self-determination. Rather it was a tactical one, precipitated by the December 2016 decision of the EU Court of Justice, in which Morocco wants to use this Multilateral Fora to argue its position and win the AU over to its position (of non- recognition of SADR).

Despite this challenge the admission of Morocco to the AU presents new opportunities for the international solidarity movement in support of the Western Sahara's right to self-determination.

As governments we must seize the moment and ensure that the admission of Morocco propels us to expedite the resolution of the Western Sahara impasse within the AU. To this end President Zuma stated in his State of the Nation Address in February 2017:

“……… we hope that the admission of Morocco to the African Union should serve as a catalyst to resolve the Western Sahara issue”.

The current environment also requires the international solidarity movement (governments and civil society) to work more closely and with greater synergy and energy. We must review, change and strengthen our tactics and strategies to address these current changes.

For example the SADR needs to drastically increase its Friends of Polosario campaign internationally and it needs to learn from the successes of organisations and campaigns such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and even our own International Anti-Apartheid Movement.


Ladies & Gentlemen

In conclusion, I look forward to a fruitful and robust debate which can only strengthen our resolve to contribute towards a speedy resolution of the Western Sahara conflict.

Our recommendations must assist in developing innovative and practical strategies and tactics to counter the current prevailing conditions. I believe that we all share the same sentiment that failure to move with speed to resolve this conflict is detriment to the wellbeing and the needs of the people of Western Sahara, Africans and the global community.

I thank you!!!



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