Morocco and South Africa to resume ties after 13-year break over Western Sahara

Morocco and South Africa to resume ties after 13-year break over Western Sahara
South African President Jacob Zuma says ties will be restored with Morocco, despite pro-Polisario sentiment remaining strong in his own ANC party.
2 min read
03 December, 2017
Jacob Zuma said diplomatic ties should exist despite differences on Western Sahara [Getty]

South Africa and Morocco will restore diplomatic ties, thirteen years after Rabat withdrew its ambassador to Pretoria, South African President was quoted as saying on Sunday.

The two countries broke ties in 2004, when former South African president Thabo Mbeki chose to recognise the independence of a region in the Western Sahara that Morocco claims as its own.

Morocco considers the Polisario Front, which proclaimed the independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976, as a terrorist organisation.

"Morocco is an African nation and we need to have relations with them," Zuma told South Africa's City Press. "We never had problems with them anyway; they were the first to withdraw diplomatic relations."

Zuma's remarks follow a brief meeting between himself and Morocco's King Mohammed VI on the sidelines of an African Union-European Union summit last week.

"They felt that even if we differ on the Western Sahara issues, the two countries should have a relationship," Zuma said, referring to the stance of Moroccan officials he met with.

The move is part of Morocco's wider diplomatic reintergration with other African nations and bodies that it had shunned due to disagreements over Western Sahara. In January, Morocco returned to the African Union, 33 years after it left the body in protest against its acceptance of the Sahrawi Republic as a seperate member.

The announcement by Zuma is unlikely to be received well back in South Africa, where political support for Sahrawi independence remains strong.

Zuma's own African Nation Congress Party has long accused Morocco of occupying the region, with the president having affirmed in a state of the nation address that South Africa supports "self determination and decolonisation for the Western Sahara".