The ANC statement wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. Morocco’s Mohamed Boudra was elected president of the Organisation of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) on Friday 15 November 2019, after a congress of the body in Durban that week. Boudra is mayor of Al Hoceima and chairman of the Moroccan Association of Presidents of Municipal Councils.
Four days later, on Tuesday 19 November, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule sent out a press release fuming that there were “individual ANC members” in this congress who supported Morocco’s candidature even after they were “instructed by the Secretary-General of the ANC, who is the administrative custodian and day-to-day guardian of the National Conference Resolutions and policy positions of the ANC, NOT to support” it.
The “NOT” is in caps, and indicative of Magashule’s level of irritation. His instruction was backed up by that of “comrade Lindi Zulu”, who chairs the ANC’s international relations sub-committee and who is also social development minister. She promised to speak after her meeting in Parliament yesterday, but couldn’t be reached later. Zulu, who returned Daily Maverick’s call on Thursday afternoon, said she did not know what transpired with the voting in the UCLG conference as she was in Kenya at the time. She could also not give the names of those ANC members who attended the meeting. Sounding impatient, she said her role in the matter was to help determine ANC policy as subcommittee chairperson.
Magashule doesn’t name any culprits in the statement, but ANC members known to have attended this conference — in their official capacities — included Minister of Co-operative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who spoke at the opening, her deputy, Parks Tau (and previous president of the UCLG, who confirmed he was at the conference, but didn’t want to comment), Gauteng premier David Makhura, and Buffalo City mayor Xola Pakati, whose name and picture appeared on the programme.
Some in the ANC were left puzzled by Magashule’s statement, noting that there wasn’t a vote at the congress during which ANC members could have shown their colours. Charlotte Lobe, now an official at the department of international relations, posted in a Facebook discussion that she heard that Morocco emerged uncontested after Russia and Mauritius withdrew, and she speculated that Magashule issued the statement “prematurely… without considering the facts”. South Africa is a known ally of Russia through BRICS, and it’s possible that the Russian candidate could have been the ANC’s first choice.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe was yesterday not able to throw any light on this matter, as he said he had been in Polokwane all day and not able “to get you the information you had asked for”. The rest of Magashule’s press release is, however, informative. He publicly distanced the ANC “from the ill-disciplined actions of some individual members of our organisation, who acted without any mandate from the ANC”.
He continued: “For the record, it must be stated that the ANC at no stage in any manner whatsoever supported, or considered supporting, the candidature of Morocco.”
This position comes from the ANC’s expressed solidarity with the people of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic against what it sees as Morocco’s “illegal and brutal occupation” of Western Sahara. Magashule threatened with disciplinary action the individuals “who have disregarded the formal policy position of the ANC”, as informed by its resolution on Morocco at its 2017 conference in Nasrec.
The ANC’s resolutions don’t explicitly address whether members should oppose Morocco in international forums — although South Africa fiercely opposed Morocco’s admission to the African Union in January 2017 — but said it should help ensure that the United Nations-led referendum on Western Sahara’s independence takes place. It also urged the international community to support the fight by the Saharawi people, and said the South African government should appoint a special envoy on the Western Sahara issue. This has not yet happened.
President Cyril Ramaphosa last month granted accreditation to Moroccan ambassador Youssef Amrani, more than a year after he was appointed by King Mohammed VI to go to Pretoria. Amrani is Rabat’s first ambassador to South Africa in 15 years and his arrival was hailed as a “new chapter” by the North Africa Post. This thawing of relations followed a meeting, which was not announced ahead of time, former president Jacob Zuma had with the king on the sidelines of an African Union and European Union summit in Abidjan late in 2017.
South Africa’s diplomatic relations with Morocco are now considered to be normalised, and there are also economic ties, although the official government position remains that the Western Sahara issue should be resolved through a referendum. Government officials said South Africa was trying to engage Morocco on this through the African Union. Earlier this year the South African department of international relations in Pretoria hosted the Southern African Development Community solidarity conference with Western Sahara, but Morocco went on to host an opposing, much bigger, solidarity conference in Rabat, with more African heads of state on exactly the same day. This was slammed by ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe.
The real motive behind Magashule’s statement might not have anything to do with Morocco. The Moroccan embassy appeared not to have known about it until Daily Maverick brought it to a diplomat’s attention, and even then the embassy didn’t comment.
It might have something to do with the ANC’s national general council in 2020, during which people from Magashule’s side of the ANC want to use non-adherence to the ANC’s Nasrec conference resolutions to get rid of Ramaphosa and some of his supporters. Because of the almost 50-50 split in the ANC at the conference, the resolutions are often compromise positions and about as elegant and clear as the messy infighting in the party ever since.
More immediately, there is also the reopening of the debate about South Africa’s support for the International Criminal Court with the reinstatement of the International Criminal Crimes Bill in Parliament. The bill was tabled just before the Nasrec conference to withdraw South Africa from the ICC, partly as a result of the fallout resulting from the government’s non-arrest of former Sudan president and ICC fugitive Omar al-Bashir, when he attended the 2015 AU summit in Sandton.
The ANC under Ramaphosa has since softened its stance on the withdrawal and government officials say the support for South Africa to remain in the ICC is bigger now and the bill is unlikely to go through. The likes of Magashule, however, might see this as a betrayal of the ANC’s conference decisions. The statement on Morocco might have just been a warning shot that is part of this bigger battle. DM
*This article was amended on 21 November, 2019.