Members of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army parade during a ceremony to mark 40 years after the Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on February 27, 2016 at the Sahrawi refugee camp of Dakhla which lies 170 km to the southeast of the Algerian city of Tindouf. SADR was declared in 1976 by the Polisario Front -- a rebel movement that wants independence for Western Sahara -- which fought a guerrilla war against Rabat's forces before a ceasefire in 1991. / AFP / Farouk Batiche (Photo credit should read FAROUK BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images)

SADC has escalated the fight against Morocco’s illegal and colonial occupation of Western Sahara. Will AU relent and other member states join the fight?

Foreign ministers and liberation party loyalists from member states of the Southern Africa Development Community converged in Pretoria for a solidarity conference for the people of Western Sahara. The conference follows a decision taken at the 37th Summit of the SADC heads of state and government, held in Pretoria in 2017 to convene the Solidarity Conference with Western Sahara.

Speaking at the opening of the Conference Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said, “It is incorrect to repeat regular references to our continent as ‘post-colonial’, when the people of Western Sahara are not free.”

President of Western Sahara Brahim Ghali echoed the same sentiments, urging the African Union to act decisively on the referendum as regards the self determination of the Saharawi people.

In addition to ministers from the SADC states, the deputy prime minister from Algeria as well as ministers of foreign affairs from Venezuela and Nicaragua were also in attendance. The vice President of Cuba, and presidents of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, Uganda, and Zimbabwe are among some of the expected Heads of State and ministers. All the presidents of the front-line states, a coalition of nations that held together in the fight against European colonialism, are expected were expected to arrive in South Africa on Tuesday.

The conference has been termed a first as few nations have had the courage to take up a serious stand against Morocco’s occupation and marginalisation of the Saharawi people. It was not short of a revolutionary atmosphere as members from the region’s main liberation movements could be spotted in their party regalia, these included members from SWAPO, Zanu-PF, Frelimo, MPLA, ANC, and SACP.

SADC chairperson and Namibia President Hage Geingob said he was aware of attempts to divide the continent on this matter, adding that it was important to question if the SADC region was united in the quest to liberate the troubled country. This was as some member states were reportedly in Morocco for a parallel conference on Western Sahara.

Morocco had tried to divert the conference by convening its own to discuss the issue. Reports were that the Foreign Ministry of Morocco had sent out invitations to members of the African Union inviting them to their own conference. The Moroccans even went to the extent of promising to foot all the travel expenses of those who were going to attend its conference.

Morocco has been occupying Western Sahara since it annexed the land in 1976. This is despite a UN resolution issued in 1977 which affirmed the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination. To date, large parts of Western Sahara are still under the control of the Moroccan Government and known as the Southern Provinces. However, a meagre 20% of the territory is now controlled by the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the Polisario state with limited international recognition.