From the news desk

DIRCO explains its position on Western Sahara and Palestine

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By Anees Teladia

The South African national government has once again come out and shown its support for the Saharawi people amidst the occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco. Special Adviser to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Zane Dangor told VOC Drivetime that while South Africa is not alone in the fight to free the Saharawi people from occupation, national government is aware of foreign interference aimed at undermining the process.

“If one looks at the recent solidarity meeting that was held, the entire Southern African Development Community (SADC) committed to the African Union (AU) resolution that Western Sahara should get its independence and that we should not have a country in Africa still being colonised. That was agreed to. So, there’s an AU resolution and there are United Nations resolutions to that effect. South Africa is taking a leading role because of our stance on anticolonialism and the decolonisation struggle,” said Dangor.

“We have to state that there are moves from others – particularly the United States, working with Morocco – to undermine the struggle of the Saharawi people and to move away from the agreed process of a referendum for the people to decide the outcome of the situation. That’s what we are fighting for. For the people of the Western Sahara to have the right to self-determination.”

“So, while we are not lonely in the fight, we are not unaware of the moves toward undermining the process, both from our side and within Africa.”

When questioned on possible reasons for foreign interference in the matter, Dangor indicated that countries such as the US would prefer an unstable situation in the region as it makes it easier to extract resources without truly democratic participation and involvement.

“One of the key issues in Western Sahara is that it’s quite rich in resources. Outside interests would like to have a situation where the status quo remains, so they can extract people’s resources without their participation.”

“There would then [also] be a situation where they [the foreign countries interfering to disrupt the efforts of the AU and SADC] say ‘work with me in maintaining the status quo in Western Sahara and we will work with you to maintain the status quo in Palestine,’ and we do see some linkages – very informal at this stage, but we know it’s happening.”

“It’s a coalescing of powers that would seek to keep Morocco and Israel in the same position as occupying powers. The International Court of Justice declared both those countries as occupying powers…,” said Dangor.

Engaging on matters regarding Palestine and the recent publication by the South African Jewish Report which suggests that President Cyril Ramaphosa has contradicted DIRCO Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu regarding the status of the downgrading of the South African Embassy in Israel, Dangor said there has been a “constant attempt” to find contradictions and to “drive a wedge” between the two.

“The President said in parliament that the downgrade has commenced. We have no ambassador within Israel. The Minister has [also] confirmed that the downgrade has commenced. We will not be sending an ambassador to Israel,” said Dangor.

“The issue of cabinet is almost like an addendum in that once elections are done, a formal submission will be made for cabinet to endorse a decision – but it has already been made and confirmed within parliament.”

“The decision to downgrade and upgrade diplomatic relations with any country is a sovereign decision and is normally done by the executive; the President and the cabinet. The people with the power to make the decision have made the decision.”

“Going to cabinet is essentially a process around ensuring that the rest of cabinet is informed about what the issues are that underpinned the decision. It’s very difficult for cabinet to reverse a decision that has been made based on very sound consideration around the laws of occupation and contravention of international human rights law.”

Dangor said government had engaged with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies as well and that the decision was not a “one-person decision” in any case.

“The entire National Executive Committee of the ANC has agreed with the decision and the highest decision-making body for the party agreed with the decision,” he said.

“The President confirmed the decision in parliament and the Minister started effecting this decision in April, so the downgrade “phase 1” is in place and going to cabinet is not about seeking approval.”

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