The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 17           May 19, 2003  
Western Sahara independence
fighter will tour New Zealand
and Australia
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand--Fatima Mahfoud, a representative of Polisario, the Western Sahara national liberation organization, will do a five-city speaking tour here May 21–30. Mahfoud is also a leader of the Saharawi National Women’s Union (SNWU). She will speak at university campuses and public forums, and meet with women’s groups and other organizations. Her New Zealand visit, which will be followed by a three-week tour of Australia, will provide a unique opportunity for working people and youth in this part of the world to learn firsthand about the independence struggle in Western Sahara.

Western Sahara is a nation of approximately 300,000 people in northwestern Africa. From 1884 to 1975 it was a direct colony of Spain. In face of growing independence struggles, the imperialist government of Spain and the semicolonial regimes of Morocco and Mauritania brokered a deal in 1975. Madrid relinquished direct control of Western Sahara and allowed it to be carved up and occupied by Moroccan and Mauritanian government forces.

Tens of thousands of Saharawis were driven from their country into the desert, where they have lived for almost three decades in tents in refugee camps on the Algerian side of the border. The imperialist rulers of the United States, France, and Spain continue to dominate Morocco through their client, King Mohammed VI.

The Saharawi people have been fighting for their independence for decades. In 1973, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario) was founded. It launched a guerrilla war for independence against Spain. Polisario continued its struggle after the 1975 agreement and drove out the Mauritanian forces four years later. The Moroccan regime, however, extended its occupation into the formerly Mauritania-controlled region.

Since 1989 the Polisario Front and the Moroccan regime have adhered to a United Nations-brokered cease-fire. Under this agreement, the Saharawi people were supposed to vote in a referendum on independence. But for 12 years Morocco has obstructed the referendum.

The start of Mahfoud’s tour in New Zealand will coincide with the release of a report by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, scheduled to be presented to the UN Security Council May 19. This report is meant to assess options for resolving the conflict in Western Sahara.

Mahfoud was invited to visit Australia and New Zealand by the Australian Western Sahara Association. In New Zealand, her tour is being organized by local committees involving university professors, student groups, and representatives of other organizations. These include the aid agency CORSO, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, immigrant groups, the Communist League, and Young Socialists.

Mahfoud, 33, has worked in a number of countries in Western Europe in recent years as a representative of Polisario and the SNWU. She will speak in Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington.

Mariem Salec, a member of the national secretariat of SNWU, had made an initial contact with Young Socialists from New Zealand, and discussed the activities of this women’s group with YS members at the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students in Algiers in August 2001.

"The Saharawi National Women’s Union was created during the struggle against Spanish colonialism," Salec said in that interview. "It called for women’s rights and decolonization. After the withdrawal of Spain, it became an instrument for women to support the just struggle of our people against the invasion of Morocco. We are fighting not only to free our land but also for justice and equality. No one can speak about the Saharawi struggle and Saharawi liberation without speaking about the proud role that women play in our society.

"Our women are fighting on two fronts. The first is to have a free and independent state. Without a state we can do nothing. Secondly, we are the motor force in the struggle to change the view that men have of women, and to get women to play their full role in our society."

For more information call (3) 377-3834 or write to  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home