The Spaniards left the territory in 1975, and this led Morocco to occupy it and move a number of Moroccans to the land on its southern border – which the United Nations has since proposed a referendum to be conducted to settle its status.
Over the years, however, Rabat has not been keen to hold the referendum.
Due to this delay, a group of Saharawi formed the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and an armed wing, declared its independence as armed wing waged a low level war against the occupation in order to dislodge Moroccan troops from the territory.
While a ceasefire is holding, the issue of bringing peace to Western Sahara or SADR is far from over.
The African Union’s recognition and admission of the SADR to the AU led Rabat to leave the continental body.
Morocco has since been re-admitted to the AU under the new leader King Muhammad VI, but the kingdom has not shown any desire to leave Western Sahara.
The sticking point between Rabat and Pretoria, therefore, is the latter’s continued recognition of the SADR as an independent state as the former continues to treat the Western Sahara as part and parcel of its kingdom.
South Africa’s thinking is that Morocco’s occupation of the former Spanish territory smacks of latter day colonialism.
For a new country whose new rulers fought against apar
theid, to recognise Rabat’s continued occupation of Western Sahara, is an enigma to Pretoria’s values as a believer and promoter of human rights, not only in Africa, but in the entire world.
According to the diplomacy here, South Africa has written a letter to Rabat, requesting for the normalisation of their diplomatic relations.
The latter has yet to respond to the quest for the rapprochement.
For the record, however, Morocco and South Africa have normal trading relations.
While Pretoria and Rabat are still struggling to better their diplomatic relations in the political field, economic ties between the two African nations are flourishing.
Indeed, a large delegation from the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises (CGEM) led by its president, Salaheddine Mezouar, took part in the African Investment Forum the African Development Bank hosted 7-9 November 2018 in Johannesburg.
During this event, members of the CGEM delegation met with their counterparts from the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry which includes 20,000 companies.
The meeting between the two groupings is seen as a positive step towards a “promising future” between the two countries, as stressed by a Moroccan royal cabinet statement issued on 29 November 2017.