The African National Congress (ANC) on Tuesday described as "regrettable" the African Union (AU)'s decision to re-admit Morocco into the regional bloc.
"This decision represents a significant setback to the cause of the Sahrawi people and their quest for self-determination and independence in the Western Sahara," the ANC's international relations sub-committee chair, Edna Molewa, said in a statement.
The AU voted to readmit Morocco on Monday, more than 30 years after it quit the continental body in protest against it recognising the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a member. Thirty-nine countries out of 54 approved its return.
Molewa said the ANC, long-time allies of the Western Sahara, had supported the Sahrawi people in their fight for liberation against Morocco, one of the last colonial outposts on the continent.
Countries led by former liberation movements on the continent, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, and Algeria had opposed the AU’s decision.
They had supported the Sahrawi people and their right to an independent homeland, the ANC said.
"The ANC, whilst respecting the decision of the AU, hopes that in coming months, the AU will not allow the matter of the independence of Western Sahara to be swept under the carpet of political expediency," said Molewa.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper said that President Robert Mugabe had over the decades been "steadfast" about his government's backing of Western Sahara's independence.
The report quoted a Zimbabwean official as saying that if Morocco wanted to be a member of the AU, it should accede to the principles of the AU.
"They have to accept the boundaries that were there at independence, and those boundaries show the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco as distinct, sovereign territories... They remain illegally in occupation of a sovereign African country and no amount of Moroccan propaganda will move us from this position," the official was quoted as saying.
But Morocco insisted that the sparsely-populated desert region was part of its territory, despite the United Nations' resolutions to hold a referendum on self-determination.
President Jacob Zuma met Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic President Brahim Ghali during a working visit earlier this month. He was a special guest at the ANC's 105 birthday celebrations at Orlando stadium in Soweto.