Picture: Katlholo Maifadi/DIRCO

The tragic passing of Ambassador Radhi-Sghaiar Bachir of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic has unleashed renewed calls for Morocco to respect UN resolutions that have called for a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Bachir, who passed away from a brief illness last week, was lauded as a great revolutionary who for decades lived his cause and fought for the liberation of all oppressed people living under colonialism. 

“We tend to forget the good causes. We tend to forget those who suffer under oppression. Bachir made sure we didn’t forget,” Minister for International Relations Naledi Pandor told mourners at the memorial service held at DIRCO. 

Pandor recounted how Bachir had alerted her recently to the fact that the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic was not being invited to meetings that the rest of the continent were being invited to. Pandor took action and made it clear to the hosts of a recent conference that if SADR was not invited then South Africa was not invited. As a result she ensured that SADR received an invite to attend the TICAD meeting in Yokohama, Japan. 

Pandor lamented the fact that Bachir had to return to spend his last days with his family in the Tindouf camps in the desert, calling it an indictment on all of us that an entire nation is still living in camps. 

“We must stand firm with SADR at a time when solidarity is waning on the continent. We need to act on UN resolutions as this occupation is illegal and the people must exercise their right to self-determination,” Pandor said.

“We must reiterate that the AU must determine a date for the referendum as Western Sahara is the last territory on the continent under colonial rule. The status quo cannot be allowed to continue. As Africans we have said that we reject colonialism, and we need to act to make sure it doesn’t continue.”

Bachir the Pan-Africanist would have greatly appreciated those words. Sahrawi activist Catherine Constantinides spoke of her devastation at the loss of such a great freedom fighter. Advocate Jose Nascimento praised Bachir for having chosen struggle over materialistic success, “He was a great man who lived his cause. Despite being a university graduate in Mathematics who spoke many languages fluently, Bachir chose struggle, and did so with such humility,” Nasciemento said. 

Bachir was one of the founding members of the Sahrawi Liberation movement, and was deployed as a diplomat representing his people in numerous capitals including Paris, New York, Washington, and Berlin. An old friend from Chile Democratico Yvette Ilias remembers how Bachir participated in meetings at the UN in New York in the 1970s on the liberation of the continent. “The unforgettable John Mahkatini was, at that time, the representative of the ANC. We worked together with SADR, the ANC, East Timor, amongst others. In spite of being so young, Bachir was always part of the formal and informal meetings in which we discussed the liberation of our continent in New York and at Non-Aligned Movement conferences,” Ilias recounted. 

Retired General Keith Mokoape, who is the Convenor of Friends of Western Sahara, recalled how he had accompanied OR Tambo with five other MK commanders to the Tindouf camps during the struggle. Deployed alongside the Polisario Front fighters, they were able to capture Moroccan soldiers and their weapons, which were clearly marked “Made in South Africa.” Despite the fact that a UN Resolution in 1983 had declared apartheid a crime against humanity, and an arms embargo was imposed on South Africa, Morocco continued to import weapons from apartheid South Africa. PW Botha was also welcomed more than twice to the Kingdom of Morocco. The Polisario Front donated the weapons it captured to both SWAPO and the ANC. 

* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor.