Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has slammed an article about a "major change of policy" by South Africa towards Morocco and the Western Sahara issue.
Speaking in her capacity as the chairperson of the African National Congress's (ANC's) international relations subcommittee, Molewa described the article by News24 sister publication City Press as "mischievous, untruthful and twisted".
President Jacob Zuma and International Affairs Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane met Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and his delegation on the sidelines of the two-day AU-EU Summit – bringing together leaders from the African Union (AU) and the EU.
City Press reported that Morocco is set to send its ambassadors back to South Africa and the two counties were expected to resume diplomatic ties, which were severed in 2004.
In an interview with City Press – which took place at the South African embassy in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and covered continental issues – Zuma said Morocco would send its ambassador back to Pretoria as a first sign that the two countries were resuming diplomatic relations.
This decision by Zuma was reported to mark a U-turn in a long-standing policy held by the ANC not to recognise Morocco because of its treatment of the Sahrawi people.
Molewa said the "shift in policy" inferred by the article was misleading.
"It is unclear on what basis the author has formed this assumption as a formal communique from the Presidency on what was discussed in the meeting has not been released. There is also no ANC policy that says South Africa is an enemy to Morocco or does not speak to Morocco."
Molewa said at no point has the ANC or the South African government said it does not have relations with Morocco.
"There is also no ANC policy that says South Africa should isolate Morocco and also never engage them, this declaring Morocco an enemy of South Africa. Our full and unequivocal support for Western Sahara is not conversely, enmity to Morocco."
She noted that it was the Moroccans who withdrew its diplomatic ties when then president Thabo Mbeki established ties with the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic in 2004.
As far as November 2016, the King of Morocco, when announcing his ambassadors appointments, included one for South Africa, Molewa added.
Mending ties with SA
"South Africa noted the announcement but has been awaiting the Agreement from Morocco. This step is indicative of the desire by Morocco to fix the withdrawal their diplomatic ties with South Africa which they initiated in 2004.
"There is therefore nothing wrong or unbecoming if Morocco was to initiate such a discussion at the level of the President of South Africa and the King," Molewa said.
The position of the South African government and of the ANC has not changed regarding the Western Sahara issue, namely "our unwavering support for the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination," she said.
This is a position, Molewas said, that has been reinforced by successive ANC leaders.
"The ANC has fraternal ties with the Polisario Front and recognises the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. The organisation regards the matter of Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara as a form of colonialism and remains strident in its opposition to the continued occupation," said noted.