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Western SaharaMorocco’s exports from Western Sahara hang in the balance

By Liesl Louw-Vaudran

Published 8 June 2017

South Africa has been accused of “sabotaging” Morocco’s commercial interests in Africa by seizing a vessel carrying phosphate mined by Morocco in Western Sahara. According to Moroccan media reports, the legal action against the NM Cherry Blossom, seized on its way to New Zealand with 55 000 tons of phosphate on board earlier this month, is seen as a reaction to Morocco’s recent economic and diplomatic successes on the continent. Morocco was re-admitted to the African Union (AU) in January this year and has concluded business deals with several countries on the continent – notably involving fertilizer plants using Moroccan phosphate.

South Africa has been accused of “sabotaging” Morocco’s commercial interests in Africa by seizing a vessel carrying phosphate mined by Morocco in Western Sahara.

According to Moroccan media reports the legal action against the NM Cherry Blossom, seized on its way to New Zealand with 55 000 tons of phosphate on board earlier this month, is seen as a reaction to Morocco’s recent economic and diplomatic successes on the continent. Morocco was re-admitted to the African Union (AU) in January this year and has concluded business deals with several countries on the continent – notably involving fertilizer plants using Moroccan phosphate.

However, despite the fact that South Africa is one of the staunchest supporterso f Western Sahara and has vowed to fight for independence for the territory, the case may have very little to do with any concerted anti-Morocco diplomacy on the part of South Africa.

The case may have little to do with anti-Morocco diplomacy on South Africa’s part
Instead, it is the culmination of a long global campaign by the Polisario Front, the independence movement for Western Sahara, to declare exports from the disputed territory illegal. The court case on the matter, to be heard on 18 May, could set a legal precedent that would have an important impact on the status of Western Sahara.

The NM Cherry Blossom was seized in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape following a maritime court order obtained by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and the Polisario Front on 1 May. Legal experts say the case is the first of its kind in South Africa.

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation is cited as a respondent in the case since South Africa has recognized the SADR that claims the Western Sahara. The argument before the court is that the cargo is illegal since it was not authorized by the SADR. A Daily Maverick article by the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane calling for an end to the exploitation of the resources of Western Sahara is also cited in the court documents.