Polisario Front soldiers drive a bakkie mounted with an anti-aircraft weapon at sunset in Bir Lahlou, Western Sahara. Zohra Bensemra Reuters File
South Africa is to host the Southern African Development Community (SADC) solidarity conference with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic in Pretoria on March25 and 26.

“South Africa is committed to working with the 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 Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu has said.

The SADC’s 38th ordinary summit approved the convening of a solidarity conference. During the conference, 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.

This will be the first time a regional economic community shows solidarity with the Sahrawi people.

“The conference was inspired by recent UN-AU attempts to close this chapter of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara which systematically has been denied the right to self-determination,” said Dr Garthe le Pere, Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria.

“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 they are often overlooked in the high politics of the conflict,” Le Pere said.

The conference is expected to conclude with the adoption of an SADC regional strategy and a declaration to establish mechanisms to engage stakeholders and partners, including Morocco, to observe the spirit of the AU and UN decisions to expedite the resolution of the Western Sahara crisis.

The SADC region believes the ­Saharwi Arab Democratic Republic has the right to self-determination based on the principles of multilateralism and international legality in seeking a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution for 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 the 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.