Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. File picture: Yandisa Monakali/DNS
Pretoria - South Africa is set to host the much anticipated Southern African Development Community (SADC) Solidarity Conference with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic next week in Pretoria on 25–26 March.

“South Africa is committed to working with SADC for the freedom of the people of Western Sahara, and this must be done in our lifetime. South Africans will only be free when the people of Western Sahara and the people of Palestine are free,” Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu has said.  

The 38th Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of SADC approved the convening of a Conference on Solidarity with the Saharawi people. During the Solidarity Conference, the SADC Heads of State will express the region’s support for decolonisation and self-determination for Western Sahara on the basis of the values and principles that have guided the quest for independence throughout Africa.  

“The SADC conference is very important as it is the first time a regional economic community shows its solidarity with the Sahrawi people. The conference draws its inspiration from recent attempts by the AU and UN to close this sad chapter of Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara which has systematically been denied the right to self-determination,” Dr Garthe le Pere, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria has said.    

“Quite crucially the conference provides an opportunity to underscore the serious humanitarian plight of the Sahrawi people compounded by the gross violation of their human rights; for it is they who are often overlooked in the high politics of the conflict,” Le Pere said.  

SADC’s collaboration with Western Sahara has been informed by the region’s own decolonisation experiences and the quest for liberation and self-determination. The Solidarity Conference is expected to conclude with the adoption of a SADC Regional Strategy and a Declaration. The declaration will establish mechanisms to engage relevant stakeholders and partners including Morocco, to observe the spirit of the African Union and United Nations decisions in order to expedite the resolution of the Western Sahara matter.  

The regional declaration will support the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic’s right to self-determination and independence based on the principle of self-determination and decolonisation, through the holding of a referendum. The SADC region believes that the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic has the right self-determination based on the principles of multilateralism and international legality in seeking a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination and independence of the people of Western Sahara.

The SADC region believes in the principle of the sanctity of inherited colonial borders in Africa and the right of peoples of former colonial territories to self-determination and independence as contained in the Constitutive Act of the AU. This necessitates respect of international human rights law in the occupied territories, notably the right to freedom of association, assembly, movement and expression and respect of international humanitarian law.  

In its final regional declaration, SADC will call for an end to the illegal exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara in the illegally occupied territory, and the discouragement of the involvement of foreign companies in such activities.