CHAN 2023: Nelson Mandela's Grandson Mandla Sparks Outrage in Morocco Over Western Sahara

CHAN 2023: Nelson Mandela's Grandson Mandla Sparks Outrage in Morocco Over Western Sahara

Keba Mothoagae
  • The thorny issue of Morocco's highly controversial and potentially explosive relationship has spilt over onto the football pitch.
  • A prominent South African politician weighed in on the matter during the opening ceremony of the 2022 African Nation's Championship in Algeria.
  • This came as the tense relationship between the kingdom and the hosts continued to be inflamed.

Many in South Africa's political establishment have made their feelings knowns regarding the Morocco-Western Sahara dispute.

This time, it was the turn of Chief Mandla Mandela, a member of South Africa's parliament, to aim at the North African kingdom. Nelson Mandela's grandson took the opportunity to criticize Morocco during the opening ceremony of the 2023 African Nations Championship on Friday in Algeria.

mandla mandela, nelson mandela, 2023 african nations championship, algeria, morocco, western sahara
Algeria's Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Nelson Mandela's Chief Mandla Mandela attend the opening ceremony of Nelson Mandela Stadium ahead of CHAN 2023. Image source: Getty Images.
Source: Getty Images

According to Aljazeera, Mandela said at the Nelson Mandela Stadium in the Baraki district of the capital Algiers:

“Let us fight to free Western Sahara from oppression. Don’t forget the last colony of Africa, Western Sahara."

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The Moroccan Football Federation did not receive these comments kindly, saying that they "flouted the rules governing the organization of football events under the auspices of the Confederation of African Football (CAF)”.

The organization also protested alleged racist and anti-Moroccan sentiments at the ceremony, with videos on social media showing Algerians purportedly chanting "derogatory" songs aimed at their neighbours.

Morocco criticizes SA politicians

Politics is never far behind sports.

This is a fact of life, none more apparent than Morocco's sensational 2022 FIFA World Cup success in Qatar.

While the Arab and Muslim world has been unanimously behind the Atlas Lions, the rest of sub-Saharan Africa has been polarized in its support for the North Africans. For instance, prominent South African politicians have not been particularly warm towards Morocco regarding its conflict with Western Sahara, as well as testy side-shows within CAF involving South Africa and the kingdom.

Morocco-Algeria tension spills into football

The decades-long rivalry between North African neighbours Morocco and Algeria has spilt onto the football pitch, leaving the Moroccan team out of the African Nations Championship (CHAN).

The Atlas Lions' under-23 team, the winner of the last two CHAN tournaments, withdrew its participation on Friday after host Algeria refused to authorize a direct flight from Rabat.

Algiers closed its airspace to all Moroccan flights in September 2021, a month after severing ties. CHAN organizers said the team could have taken an indirect flight.