PRESIDENT Mnangagwa yesterday returned from Pretoria in South Africa where he was attending the Sadc Solidarity Conference with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
The SADR has been on the agenda of the United Nations since 1963 when the territory, known then as Spanish Sahara, was placed on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories under Chapter XI of the UN Charter. The decolonisation process of Western Sahara was interrupted when Morocco invaded and occupied parts of the territory by force on October 31, 1975.
The SADR was proclaimed on February 27, 1976 and its provisional capital is Bir Lehlou.
The solidarity conference, which was held at the headquarters of the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, saw regional leaders express the region’s support towards decolonisation and right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
In her welcome remarks, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ms Lindiwe Sisulu said: “This serves to remind us that until the last colony, the Saharawi Republic is decolonised, none of us are truly free.”
The Saharawi conference and Ms Sisulu’s remarks could not have been better timed after, over the weekend, and for the first time, leaders from the Sadc region gathered in Angola’s Cuando Cubango Province to commemorate the Southern Africa Liberation Day which is dedicated to the Cuito Cuanavale battle. The commemoration follows the endorsement of the Sadc Summit of Heads of State and Government in August 2018.
It is always refreshing to see that self-determination and self-rule are still at the heart of Sadc, 25 years after the Frontline States alliance was disbanded following the formation of a democratic government in South Africa.
The main objectives of Sadc are to achieve development, peace and security, and economic growth, to alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration, built on democratic principles and equitable and sustainable development. All this can only be achieved when the people concerned are free.
SADR President and Secretary-General of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, also attended the conference in South Africa. The participation of SADR in processes leading to a lasting solution is of particular importance and follows last week’s statement by the Polisario Front saying: “Only with the approval of the Saharawi people can a solution be enduring and foster genuine peace that paves the way for a free, prosperous, and democratic Western Sahara, which will contribute to regional peace, stability, security and integration.”
Polisario Front representative to France, Oubi Boucheraya Bachir on Saturday said the progress of the negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front depend on the willingness of the Moroccan occupation regime to respect the United Nations’ resolutions guaranteeing the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination.
Mr Bachir made the remarks during negotiations which started on Thursday in Geneva, under the aegis of the United Nations on the settlement of the Saharawi conflict.
The invasion of SADR by Morocco in 1975 is such a sad story. A country that was on its way to being independent before Zimbabwe, is still being held back by the very chains that led to the formation of the Organisation of African Unity and the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference, now known as the African Union and Sadc, respectively.
We urge Africa to turn talk into action. Sadc must be unrelenting in its bid to free SADR. The African Union must grab the bull by the horns. It is disappointing to note that the AU chose to limit its peace efforts in the Western Sahara “in order to support the UN process”. It should actually be the other way round.
We commend President Mnangagwa — himself a liberation fighter — for leading from the front. In his maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September last year, President Mnangagwa urged the world to take seriously the plight of people living under foreign occupation in the SADR.
“On the African continent, it is equally disheartening that the people of Western Sahara are yet to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination. We call on the Security Council to insist on the holding of an independent referendum for the Saharawi people without delay, in compliance to the relevant decisions of the African Union and the resolutions of the United Nations,” he said.
Now is not the time for Africans to bury their heads in the sand. Ms Sisulu’s remarks pierce through the heart like a hot assegai. We are not free until the people of Western Sahara are free. This is the spirit that led to the Frontline States taking up the gun and heading to the bush. Freedom was worth dying for, and still is.
On July 9, 2011 South Sudan became Africa’s youngest nation. In the near future, we long to see SADR become the youngest member of the family.