The African National Congress (ANC) and indeed all the peoples of the Global South join the people of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in mourning the passing of their beloved son, Comrade President Mohamed Abdelaziz.
President Abdelaziz passed away on the 31st of May following illness. We share in the sorrow of the Polisario Front, with whom the ANC shares longstanding fraternal ties.
Our sorrow is all the more heightened because Comrade Mohamed did not live to see the realization of the independence of his homeland – a cause to which he had dedicated his life.
The late President Abdelaziz was the Secretary-General of Polisario for ‘most of its decades-long struggle to win independence from the former Spanish colony’ of the Western Sahara.
The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic was proclaimed by Polisario in 1976.
The Saharawi people have been campaigning for a right to self-determination, but Morocco considers the territory to be part of its kingdom.
On November 14, 1975, the tripartite Madrid Agreement, signed by Spain, Morocco and Mauritania, divided Western Sahara between the two African countries whilst securing the economic interests of Spain in phosphates and fisheries.
The agreement also stressed the end of Spanish control over the territory, but not sovereignty: Spain would remain the legal administrative power over Western Sahara.
After the Madrid agreement, Morocco invaded the territory from the north and Mauritania from the south.
On 22 July 1988 the then ANC President, Comrade Oliver Tambo led an ANC delegation to the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) at the invitation of President Mohamed Abdelaziz of SADR.
In the course of the visit to the Liberated Territories in the SADR, the Polisario Front donated a substantial quantity of arms and ammunition captured from Moroccan troops to the ANC and the South-West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO).
This gesture alone to the South African primary liberation movement signified the enduring bonds forged in difficult circumstances that the two countries and peoples share to this day.
Our common history forged in the trenches of struggle offer a poignant reminder of the necessity for solidarity between all the liberation movements of the world.
The year 1976 was a watershed for both nations. As the armed struggle against Morocco and Mauritania intensified that year, on the 09th of June 1976 the then Secretary General of Polisario Front comrade El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed was killed in combat in Mauritania.
Comrade President Mohamed Abdelaziz was elected to lead as Secretary-General of Polisario and Prime Minister of the Republic after the untimely death of comrade El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed. He was re-elected 10 times to these positions which he held for almost 40 years.
He was fearless in difficult times, he was disciplined and excelled as a leader in the trenches of the liberation struggle in all fronts.
At the same time in South Africa the youth of our country rose up against apartheid culminating in the Soweto Uprisings of June 16th.
When the United Nations called for an end to hostilities in the early 1990’s, Comrade Abdelaziz led the Polisario Front to the negotiating table, and in a great gesture of magnanimity Polisario announced it was suspending the armed struggle in favour of peaceful negotiations.
The signature of the peace agreements led to the formation in 1991 of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and the promise of a referendum on the independence of the Western Sahara by Morocco. However, despite these promises the referendum that was slated for 1992 never materialized.
His life contains a number of lessons for progressive humanity as the leaders and soldiers who must carry the political spear forward.
As we bid farewell to this hero and patriot, all our leaders, cadres and members have a duty both to study the life and invaluable contribution to humanity of Comrade Mohamed Abdelaziz and others.
We all have a duty to try as best we can to emulate the best in him, in doing all the things that are necessary to further advance the cause of the Saharawi people.
This includes a deep understanding of the need to make the necessary sacrifices to give effect to humanity’s express commitment to help to speedily resolve the Western Sahara question.
The death of Comrade President Mohamed Abdelaziz has removed from the Political scene one of the greatest figures in the Polisario Revolutionary Movement.
The injunction laid upon those Comrade Mohamed Abdelaziz had left behind is the same as that set upon Horatio by Hamlet: to “report me and my cause aright”
Every age has its prophet. The immediate condition of life, demand of the people that they act in a particular way.
Each day carries the burden of its past and the seeds of the future.
To understand and overcome the former as well as to appreciate and exploit the latter requires men and women with the honest courage, intelligence and instinct of Comrade President Mohamed Abdelaziz.
While we mourn his loss, we must thank him and his family, especially his wife, Professor Jadiya Hamdi who is a Minister of Arts in Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for their selfless service to the cause of the Saharawi people and to progressive humanity at large.
In a letter found in the pocket of an unknown El Salvadorean revolutionary soldier who died in the fight for freedom best describe the character of President Mohamed Abdelaziz, this letter reads as follows:
“Ask not my name
Nor if you knew me
The dream I have had
Will grow without me
Alive no more
I will go where my dreams have showed me
Those who carry on the fight
Will plant other roses
All will remember me.”
We urge the comrades and the Saharawi people to let the memories of President Abdelaziz spur them on as they continue the struggle for liberation he has been at the forefront for over 40 years, until they are liberated and independence is attained to fulfil one of the dearest dreams and goals the late African colossus died for.
A fine comrade has fallen – but in victory, not in vain. His family does not grieve alone.
Cde. Nathi Mthethwa is a member of the ANC NEC, NWC and Chairperson of the Political Education Sub-committee of the NEC.