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Ronnie Kasrils in western sahara the frontline report

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(source: communist

You have seen Michael Palin in the Sahara series, now find out what Ronnie Kasrils discovered when he visited the Western Sahara, scene of decades of struggle for freedom of the Saharan people led by Polisario. Ronnie, who was a commander in the armed wing of the African National Congress [MK] and a minister in the South African government, sent this frontline report to the CP website. You can view a photographic record of his tour.

Ronnie writes:


“Just before the Arab Tsunami broke out I was at a conference in Algiers and following up an invite from the Polisario Liberation  Front flew nearly 2,000 kms to distant Tindouf in the far north-west of Algeria where the Saharawi (West Sahara) refugee camps are situated on the border of their occupied country.

There are six settlements (camps) housing some 160,000 refugees from the Moroccan occupation. These are run by democratically elected committees which contrast with the Unwra-Palestinian model. The UN and other agencies provide relief and are kept at a distance for supplies are handled through Polisario by those committees which I believe provides for real empowerment.

This can be seen in amongst other aspects the involvement of the women and their structures: the medical; educational. cultural, training and other formations. One of the women joked that their headscarves were not veils – but to protect them, as with the men, from the desert sun and wind – and indeed come dusk they remove them – on the streets and at home.

Polisario are secularist which does not imply that the people do not  observe the Islamic faith which indeed is the basis of their culture –  whether of Arab, Berber, Bedouin or African origin.

When I later journeyed in the liberated territory our convoy would regularly halt and dawn for prayers but there is no religious dictat over Polisario whatsoever.

As for the Moroccan charge (with some French neo-con backing) that Polisario provide an entry point into the Sahel for Al Qaeda this is arrent nonsense and deliberate scare-mongering. What is clear is that France is Morocco’s main ally andto their shame the Spanish socialist government has secretly sided withFrance (as revealed through Wikkileaks).

Remember that it was Spain washing hands of its former colony in 1975 that paved the way for Morocco and Mauritania to invade from north and south respectively and stake their claims on West Sahara – as though the Saharawi were a non-existent people. The Saharawi (population 350,000) had proved rebellious beforehand and Spain had clamped down on several popular revolts from Franco’s early days of power in the late 1930s. This struggle increased as Spain sought to increase its presence in the country with the discovery of rich commercially viable phosphate deposits. This led to the growth of a few towns along the 800 kms coastline and the port city and capital La Ayoune. The Saharawi’s nomadic Bedouin lifestyle began to erode with employment opportunities drawing them to towns and to Morocco – especially the southern part where many young people went for education.

Saharawi nationalism was on the rise and organisations were spawned. The 1975 occupation saw the commencement of Polisario’s armed struggle with dramatic results. The initial focus was on Mauritania – as the weakest link – and attacks on its capital led to that country bowing out and recognising Saharwi’s legitimate independence claim.

Notable successes were achieved in battle against the Moroccan army with the capture of hundreds of South African supplied Impala armoured cars which Polisario President Aziz once famously offered to Oliver Tambo.

During the 1980s, with Israeli assistance, the Moroccans erected an earth wall hundreds of kms stretching on high ridges from north to south in an effort  to confine Polisario guerrillas to the eastern border area with Algeria. This wall was repeatedly breached with incursions taking place deep into west Sahara.

1990 saw the onset of negotiations. A UN resolution, accepted by both sides, called for a ceasefire, to be followed by a referendum which is meant to decide between autonomy or independence.

Despitesettling thousand of ex-soldiers in the territory Morocco has shirked from the referendum and instead insists on autonomy as the only offer. Moroccan obduracy, strongly supported by France, has led to the current deadlock. But there are encouraging signs of resistance from within WestSahara with the growth of a movement of civil disobedience and demands for human rights. The Moroccan settlers, behave like their colonial Zionist counterparts on the West Bank of Palestine. Beatings and victimisation of the indigenous people is the order of the day. Freedom of speech and assembly is denied. The Saharawi women’s leader, Hadida, who visited South Africa some years ago, has become an icon of the resistance and led a thousand people out of one of the towns to stage a protest camp in the desert.

On 8 November, 2010, after demagogic statements from the Moroccan Monarch the military attacked the camp, killed 16 people, wounded hundreds and arrested the rest. Morocco’s prisons are filled with many Saharawi detainees. When I visited Polisario military bases in liberated territory, travelling as far as the Moroccan Wall, I was greatly impressed by the discipline and morale of the combatants.

It reminded me so much of the times I spent in the ANCs  MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe) camps in our bases in Angola and elsewhere.

Likewe,  Polisario will be victorious. The Arab People’s tsunami unleashed in Tunisia, that has reached Egypt and elsewhere, is challenging corruptauthoritarian rule, and altering the balance of forces in favour of popular people’s movements for freedom and democracy in places from the West Sahara to Palestine and further afield. Whatever the power of reaction, – Mubarak will probably not go as easily as Ben Ali and no real change is possible without clear leadership and organisation to give direction to the people –  we are witnessing the dawning of an era of renewed opportunities.

A luta continua! A victoria e certe!