SA breaks its promise to Saharawi

The government has delayed implementing its promise to recognise the Saharawi Republic, reports Gaye

GOVERNMENT was tight-lipped this week on why it has back-pedalled on a commitment to give diplomatic recognition to Africa’s last colony, the Saharawi Republic, where the Polisario Front has been leading its struggle for freedom from Moroccan occupation of its territory.

South Africa is the only country in Southern Africa and one of the few Organisation of African Unity members which has ties with Morocco but does not recognise the Saharawi Republic as an independent state. In a letter in June, President Nelson Mandela promised that links would be established and this was subsequently confirmed by Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo and South Africa’s OAU ambassador. Days later, however, a Saharawi representative was informed by foreign affairs officials that implementation of the decision would have to wait.

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad said yesterday that in consultation with the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity, it had been decided that diplomatic recognition ahead of a UN-supervised referendum in the area would not be helpful.

Pressed to explain why, he referred queries to the president’s office, saying the UN and OAU had met with Mandela directly.
Presidential spokesman Parks Mankahlana said: “We’re not willing to comment on this matter at this stage. It is a subject of discussion which involves a number of parties.” He declined to elaborate.

Saharawi representative Sidati Mohamed said this week he believed the South African government was using the United Nations-supervised referendum pending in the territory as a pretext for the

Independent observers, including Human Rights Watch, have reported extensively on Moroccan human rights abuses and manipulation of the referendum process, which has been repreatedly delayed and now appears to be in danger of not taking place at all.

“We are not asking for human or financial or military support, but to get our flag and a diplomatic mission, like any other country,” Mohamed said. “The president made a commitment. It is unacceptable to use the referendum and UN gestures as an excuse to delay recognition.”

The old South African regime had extensive links with Morocco during the apartheid years, while the ANC forged links with Polisario. In 1988, the late president of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, pledged continued support for the Saharawi people’s

Suggestions are now doing the rounds that Morocco has some leverage over the government. Pahad denied this “absolutely”. He said South Africa had an observer in the OAU delegation in the Western Sahara. “We are constantly consulting. We are awaiting final reports on the matter. There is no question of Morocco influencing the president’s view,” he said.

l Meanwhile, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs this week opposed the government’s stand on two of the most contentious international relations issues of recent months: relations with the Nigerian military regime, and South Africa’s failure to support an outright international ban on

On Nigeria, the committee called for a “broad reconsideration of strategy”, which would involve the South African government taking account of the views of “all sections of Nigerian society, in particular the opposition movement within the country and in exile”.

South Africa has been criticised in recent weeks for ignoring the wishes of the Nigerian opposition, most notably when Deputy President Thabo Mbeki undertook an official visit to Nigeria without meeting pro-democracy activists.

Concerning landmines, the committee called for “a ban on the production, use and transfer of all types of anti-personnel landmines” to be enshrined in South African law. This directly contradicts the position taken by South Africa at the review conference on the United Nations Conventional Weapons Convention in Vienna in September this year. In Vienna, South Africa joined the world’s military powers supporting the phasing out of existing landmines in favour of “smart mines”, which are designed to disarm automatically after a specified period of time. Support for “smart mines” has been condemned by human rights activists and by countries such as Mozambique, which are still plagued by mines.

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