Volume 6, No. 8, 2 May 2007
Western Sahara is not Morocco’s bantustan: Intensify solidarity with the Sahrawi Struggle
Blade Nzimande, General Secretary
An SACP delegation visited the refugee camps of the Sahrawi people just outside the town of Tindouf, in the south of Algeria, as well as parts of the liberated zones of the Western Sahara. The SACP delegation was invited by both the Polisario Front (the movement that leads the struggle of the Sahrawi people) and the government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
The visit was part of deepening the long-standing fraternal relations between our Party (and our Alliance) and the Polisario Front, as well as to consolidate our solidarity with the struggle of the Sahrawi people for self-determination.
During our visit, we met with the most senior leaderships of both the Polisario Front and the SADR government. We were honoured to meet and be hosted for a reception lunch by the President of the SADR and Secretary General of Polisario, Cde Mohamed Abdelaziz. We also had a high level meeting and discussions with the Prime Minister, Cde Abdelkader Taleb Omar, and a number of government ministers.
The high level nature of the meetings we had is an indication of the extent to which the Sahrawi people has prioritized its relations and bonds of solidarity not only with the SACP, but with our alliance and our two peoples. One of the highlights of this relationship in the past was the symbolic handover of South African arms captured by the Polisario freedom fighters from Moroccans in the 1970s into the 80s. There was a deep relationship and series of arms deals between the Moroccan government and the apartheid regime. We also visited the SADR army museum where they showed us some of these arms, as well as SADF armoured vehicles, the very same vehicles used by the apartheid regime in its brutal suppression of our mass struggles!
Our delegation also had an occasion to visit a number of refugee camps and shown some of the institutions that communities and the SADR government are trying to build to improve the life of the refugees under very harsh and difficult desert conditions.
The struggle of the Sahrawi people
The Western Sahara is a desert territory which was colonized by Spain in 1884, and became a province of that country in 1934. The Polisario front launched its armed struggle on 20th May 1973 to free the Sahrawi people from Spanish colonialism. When Spain was forced to leave the territory in 1975, it conspired with both Morocco to the north and Mauritania in the south to divide the territory into two, each half owned by these latter two countries.
Both Morocco and Mauritania, with the active collusion of Spain, invaded the territory in 1975, and Spain subsequently handed over the territory to the two countries in 1976. The heroic Sahrawi freedom fighters intensified its armed struggle forcing Mauritania out of its territory completely, and pushing back Morocco and established liberated zones. As part of reclaiming its territory, the Sahrawi people, under the leadership of Polisario, declared a government in exile (based in the south of Algeria) in 1976.
Morocco continues to illegally occupy more than half of the Western Sahara, under false claims that Western Sahara was historically part of Morocco. The United Nations and many other international organizations have long declared that the Sahrawi people have a right to self-determination as an independent territory and that there is no basis whatsoever for Morocco to claim any sovereignty over this territory.
After protracted armed confrontation between Polisario and Morocco, the UN intervened and brokered a truce and a peace deal in 1991. Part of the agreement was that a referendum was going to be held amongst the Sahrawi people to determine whether they want to have independence. In addition, the UN established the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which was also charged with monitoring the 1991 truce. With Morocco sensing that it was going to lose that referendum it has, with the support of France, Spain and now the United States used every trick to sabotage the referendum until today. In fact the referendum has been delayed for about 12 times since 1991.
Immediately after 1991, Morocco embarked on a \'Green March\'; resettling thousands of Moroccans into the Western Sahara territories that it illegally occupies, as an attempt to boost numbers against a pro-independence vote by the Sahrawi people.
Our visit coincided with the discussion of the Sahrawi issue by the United Nations Security Council, based on the latest report submitted by the UN Secretary General. Amongst other things, the UN Secretary General\'s report says:
"I (Secretary General) recommend that the Security Council call upon the parties, Morocco and the Frente Polisario, to enter into negotiations without preconditions, with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara".
But the Moroccan government has come out with a new and disturbing set of proposals aimed at further subverting attempts to attain the self-determination of the Sahrawi people. The gist of the Moroccan proposal is that Western Sahara be granted an \'autonomous status\' as part of a broader Moroccan ruled territory, under Moroccan sovereignty and constitution, but be given some minimal powers of self-government. The aim of Morocco is in fact to turn Western Sahara into its Bantustan, thus permanently denying it its right to self-determination.
Morocco\'s proposals also completely undermine the resolutions of the UN, the Secretary General\'s recommendations, and many other previous resolutions of the UN and some of its agencies. It is a proposal that must be strongly rejected by all progressive forces and instead intensify solidarity with the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination.
The social and political conditions of the Sahrawi people
The Sahrawi people are currently spread in three main territories. The first group is located in the refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, and are estimated at about 180 000 people. The second group, mainly freedom fighters, is located in the liberated zones, with the majority of the population located in the territories illegally and forcibly occupied by Morocco. The third section of the population lives in Moroccan occupied territories.
The occupied territories have been sealed by Morocco with what is perhaps the longest \'political\' wall in recent times, 2 400 kilometers long! The international silence about the existence of this wall partly reflects even the hypocrisy of international media, which still talks about the Berlin wall, but completely avoids talking about this wall.
There are large-scale violations of human rights inside the occupied Sahrawi territory. There are large-scale detentions, torture, assault, suppression of political activity and repression by the Moroccan security forces against defenseless and unarmed Sahrawi in the occupied territories. In May 2005 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) undertook a mission to the Western Sahara, including the occupied territories to assess the state of human rights.
This report, dated Geneva, 8 September 2006, which has not been officially made public as a result of pressure by France, Spain, the US and Morocco, found that there are large-scale violations of human rights in the occupied territories. Amongst other things, the report observes that:
"The delegation is led to the preliminary conclusion that a) Moroccan law enforcement officials seem to have used force in an indiscriminate and disproportionate manner when exercising their responsibilities in the course of exercising their duty to maintain public order and security; and b) administrative hurdles imposed by the authorities may compromise the ability of the people of Western Sahara to fully exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly"
The report further notes "According to the testimonies, it appears that limits have been established with regard to the exercise of freedom of expression in Western Sahara in practice. It has been confirmed in several meetings, both with governmental as well as non-governmental counterparts, that the sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara may not be questioned.
"Authorities in the (Moroccan) Ministry of the Interior confirmed that audio-visual and print media, as well as Internet sites are controlled by the authorities so as to prevent assaults on the territorial integrity of Morocco. It was confirmed by the authorities that any web-site advocating for independence or judged in any way as a threat to the territorial integrity of Morocco will be banned in accordance with the law"
The report concludes that:
"Overall, the human rights situation is of serious concern, particularly in the Moroccan-administered territory of Western Sahara. Currently, the Sahrawi people are not only denied their right to self determination, but equally are severely restricted from exercising a series of other rights, and especially rights of particular importance to the very right to self-determination, such as the right to express their views about the issue, to create associations defending their right to self-determination and to hold assemblies to make their views known" (The full version of this report, as well as other very useful information on the situation in the Western Sahara, can be accessed at www.arso.org).
Of even more serious concern is that no outside organization or institution can access the occupied territories, except with the express permission of the Moroccan authorities. In the words of one former detainee we met, who spent 16 years in detention in various Moroccan jails, said when he was released from prison, he was even more disappointed, because he was only \'released from a small prison, only to be thrown into a bigger open air prison, which is our territory illegally occupied by the Moroccans\'.
The situation in the refugee camps is indeed dire. The refugees are living either in mud houses or tents, and we were quite moved that President Abdelaziz himself stays in a tent which is exactly the same as that of other refugees. Temperatures in summer can rise to 51 C, in barren land with minimal facilities, and hardly any services like enough electricity, water, etc.
The biggest problem is provision of food. There is hardly any economic activity in the refugee camps, and unemployment is almost 100%. The most disturbing aspect is that Morocco, Spain and France are convincing food donors that there is only half the population than actually is the case in the camps, and consequently there has been severe cutbacks on food provision, leading to rising levels of hunger in the population. Morocco is opportunistically using the issue of severe food shortages to discredit the leadership of Polisario, claiming that food shortages are not as a result of cutbacks, but that the Polisario leadership is keep food for itself.
There is also another disturbing development in the camps, where freedom fighters are agitating for a return to the armed struggle given the impasse on the referendum and Morocco\'s tactics to undermine self-determination for Sahrawi people. Even amongst sections of leadership there is a feeling that since the truce in 1991 there is hardly any political progress.
The Moroccan occupation and armed conflict in Western Sahara has led to a disturbing statistic which estimates that about 10% of the world active landmines are in Western Sahara
Intensifying solidarity with the Sahrawi People
The Sahrawi struggle is a struggle for decolonization, as it is the last colony on the African continent, colonized by another African people. The SACP, together with its alliance partners and other progressive formations, will this month embark on a series of solidarity activities in support of the Sahrawi struggle. For us this is part of building a Sahrawi solidarity movement in our country. We are calling upon our people to join in these activities. Our belief is that our own freedom as South Africa shall remain incomplete if Western Sahara remains a colony!
We also call upon all our fraternal organizations internationally to take up the issue of the Sahrawi, through concrete solidarity actions, as well as demonstrations and letters of protest to Moroccan embassies throughout the world. In addition we are committed to working especially with the European Sahrawi solidarity movement to pressurize Spain and France not to embark on tactics aimed at frustrating the just struggle of the Sahrawi people. In particular, we should intensify demands for international organizations to have free access to the Western Sahara territories illegally occupied by Morocco.
We also wish to salute the leading role played by our South African government in the UN Security Council in working towards a resolution that would speed up the processes leading to self-determination for the Sahrawi people. President Abdelaziz asked us to communicate to the leadership and membership of our Party, our alliance partners, our government, and indeed to all our people their appreciation of our solidarity activities and role in the UN Security Council.
What a pity South African media has dismally failed to cover this role of our government on the Sahrawi struggle for self-determination, and complete absence of coverage of the situation in this last colony on the African continent, and the brutality of the Moroccan regime.
An injury to one is an injury to all!