In a speech, the grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela referred to Morocco-controlled Western Sahara as “Africa’s last colony,” which sparked a torrent of racist attacks on the internet.
Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela called for the “liberation” of Palestine and Western Sahara while speaking at the beginning of the African Nations Championship football tournament on Friday in Algiers.
“In his honor, let us not forget the last colonial of Africa, Western Sahara, and let us struggle to liberate Western Sahara from oppression,” he said to the gathering.
The statements sparked outrage in Morocco, which denounced them as “provocative,” while the Confederation of African Football, which organized the African Nations Championship, announced on Sunday that it will launch an investigation into the matter.
In the days following the issue, Mandela was exposed to a barrage of insults and racist abuse on social media, including images of monkeys.
“Shame on you and your family for attacking the territorial sovereignty of Morocco. One Twitter user commented to him, “By doing so, you are destroying your grandfather’s legacy and coming across as dumb.”
Another person posed the question, “What’s your pricing, ni**er? I wish to hire you to herd some camels from the Moroccan Sahara.”
Others said he was bribed by Algeria, the 2023 CHAN host nation and a longtime backer of Western Sahara independence.
The new face of Algerian petrodollar slavery. Come and try to infiltrate the Moroccan Sahara, and you will see what we do with terrorists like you,” commented one person.
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During the opening match of the CHAN in the capital of Algeria, footage emerged of Algerian fans yelling against Morocco, referring to them as “animals” and urging the referee to “give them bananas.”
The African Nations Championship has been organized by the Confederation of African Football since 2009. It occurs every two years.
Since the end of Spanish colonial administration in 1975, Morocco has claimed Western Sahara as part of its territory.
Despite the fact that this status has been contested internationally for decades, former US President Donald Trump agreed in December 2020 to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the territory in exchange for Moroccan recognition of Israel; the current Biden administration has not reversed this position.
Several female activists, in particular, have been threatened with and subjected to sexual assault by Moroccan authorities in the zone where Sahrawi activists are often arrested, raided, and subjected to violence.
Between 1975 and 1991, the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi organisation backed by Algeria, engaged in military conflict with Morocco for Western Sahara’s independence.
In 1991, a ceasefire was declared, but it collapsed in November 2020, resulting in a resurgence of violence and deteriorating tensions between Morocco and Algeria.
Since then, Sahrawi activists have charged that Moroccan authorities have intensified their repression.