In a major change of policy, the Kingdom of Morocco is set to send its ambassadors back to South Africa, and the two countries will resume diplomatic ties. These were severed in 2004.
In an interview with City Press – which took place at the South African embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and covered continental issues – Zuma said Morocco would send its ambassador back to Pretoria as a first sign that the two countries were resuming diplomatic relations.
Zuma and International Affairs Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane met Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and his delegation on Wednesday evening, on the sidelines of the two-day AU-EU Summit – bringing together leaders from the African Union (AU) and the EU – which ended on Thursday.
Zuma’s decision marks a U-turn in a long-standing policy held by the ANC not to recognise Morocco because of its treatment of the Sahrawi people.
Earlier this year, the governing party criticised the AU for readmitting Morocco into the continental bloc.
“This decision represents a significant setback to the cause of the Sahrawi people and their quest for self-determination and independence in the Western Sahara,” said Edna Molewa, chairperson of the ANC’s international relations subcommittee.
In 2004, Morocco withdrew its ambassador from Pretoria in protest after former president Thabo Mbeki established diplomatic ties with Western Sahara. Morocco regards Western Sahara as part of its territory.
“Morocco is an African nation and we need to have relations with them,” said Zuma.
“We never had problems with them anyway; they were the first to withdraw diplomatic relations.”
Zuma said it was difficult to resume relations with the kingdom because, until recently, it had not been part of the AU.
“Because they had left the OAU [Organisation of African Unity, predecessor of the AU], we [the current government] did not have a chance to meet with them. They had left and abandoned the AU because they were unhappy with African countries’ views relating to the Western Sahara issue.
“At that time, South Africa had clearly sided with the oppressed people of Western Sahara. So, there was no opportunity for dialogue, which is why we were meeting for the first time. One of the reasons we met with them is that Morocco is now back in and is part of the AU.”
Relations between the two countries were critical, said Zuma, adding that Morocco was one of the countries in which former president Nelson Mandela had acquired military experience in the early 1960s.
“The king’s grandfather once met Mandela when he was out of the country in 1962. He was travelling around the world, looking for countries that could train Umkhonto weSizwe soldiers. They helped us a great deal. That is why, when Mandela was released from prison, he felt it was important for him to go to Morocco and say thank you to them, notwithstanding the fact that they had left the OAU.
“We met and talked. We explained to them where we are coming from as South Africa. They also voiced their unhappiness about Pretoria’s position on the issue.
“They felt that even if we differ on the Western Sahara issues, the two countries should have a relationship.”
Zuma said that during the meeting, King Mohammed VI argued strongly that Western Sahara belonged to Morocco.
“He has his views on how they are all related. We want to understand and have clarity on where they all [the king and the people in Western Sahara] come from. We respect their views; they know their history better. But we also have our views about human rights and the general rights of all nations, and we don’t have issues discussing them.”
Zuma expressed his shock regarding recent revelations that human traffickers were buying and selling people in slavery markets in Libya. “We saw pictures of people’s legs tied to trees, with their heads and hands dangling.
“We were equally shocked to see on TV that people are being bought and sold in slavery markets. Everyone is shocked. All speakers expressed their disapproval.”
At the summit, said Zuma, it was decided that the UN should help the Libyans investigate the matter.
“What made us happy is that even many EU members spoke out strongly against modern-day slavery. The UN must come to the party and assist the Libyans because we are not even sure if they have the capacity to investigate the problems there because of their weak government.”
He said he had pressed those attending the summit to discuss the reason Africans flee their countries and seek greener pastures in Europe.
“The reason is the conditions they face in their own countries. As such, they think they might find jobs in Europe. We discussed it with the EU. It is clear that African economies have to improve dramatically – and education is the key, so that people are skilled in their own countries.”
The president also lay blame at the doors of Western governments, which helped rebels topple Libya’s former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.
The current crisis in Libya had resulted from the instability that was brought about by the removal of Gaddafi, he said.
However, the irony is that South Africa voted in favour of a no-fly zone over Libya at the UN Security Council in 2011, fully aware that enforcement of the resolution would entail air strikes.
Security council seat
At the summit, Zuma said he had lobbied different people to consider appointing South Africa as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council in 2019 for the third time.
“We had several discussions with a number of people, and we asked them to support our bid to have a nonpermanent seat on the Security Council. Most of them said they don’t have issues with us. In any case, they have seen us there.
“We have been there twice, and when we were there we made a big difference. They promised to support our bid.”
But the ultimate goal, Zuma said, was for Africa to enjoy permanent representation on the Security Council.
“It is a big discussion among African nations and the UN that such a big continent should have representation on the Security Council. We don’t have to be represented by other people. Our colonisers are still our representatives on the Security Council.”