The quest for Justice and Freedom has always been at the heart of all revolutionaries and giants of mankind.“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.
I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Nelson Mandela, 1964)
“… We were taught that 10 October 22nd and 24th February are glorious anniversaries of national rejoicing, because they mark days on which Cubans rebelled against the yoke of infamous tyranny. We were taught to cherish and defend the beloved flag of the lone, star, and to sing every afternoon the verses of our National Anthem: ‘To live in chains is to live in disgrace and in opprobrium, and ‘To die for one’s homelands is to live forever!” (Fidel Castro, 1953)
At the very onset let me make it clear that my lecture focuses on Paying Tribute to the Cuban Five in Memory of Nelson Mandela. This is because I consider this occasion as a belated welcome as their captors denied them the opportunity to receive a warmest heroic welcome Madiba would have showered them with.
We welcome these gallant fighters in the Judicial Capital of the Republic of South Africa – a sovereign state founded upon the values of: “Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedom” as enshrined in our Constitution.
We welcome these heroes as a nation that has vowed to always be indebted to those who sacrificed their lives to build and develop our country. Indeed we owe our nationhood to the Cuban people.
The quest for freedom and liberation needs an understanding of commitment found in men and women who are extraordinary. It is such revolutionaries that make us mere mortals feel humbled and yet blessed that they touched our lives with their commitment in action.
The quest justice, freedom and liberation driven by a high sense of commitment and dedication is not enough in freeing the people from the shackles of slavery and colonialism. Men and women of the same mind need to join hands and move in unison for that quest for freedom. It is the same values that underpinned the lives of Mandela and Castro.
Mandela’s rise to prominence (1950s) as the centre of the African National Congress (ANC) politics coincided with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution as witnessed in 1959. This period presented an inescapable parallelism between the Cuban Revolution and the South African struggle for liberation including similarities between Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela. Both of these world’s icons were banned, arrested, imprisoned and operated underground in pursuit freedom.
While Castro came from a wealthy family background, Madiba came from the royal family of Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. All these, could not eclipse their sight for the national liberation struggle – or the quest for justice and freedom. Finally, they ascended the presidency in their respective countries, Cuba and South Africa respectively. In one of his popular essays titled “The Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” Karl Marx made a postulation that says:
“Men make their history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past” (Karl Marx).
The life of Madiba proved the above hypothesis correct. He might have changed the world, but surely did not have a say to be born and live during the colonial and apartheid epoch. His direct encounter with the above circumstances [as argued by Marx) produced a glittering jewel of humanity in him simply because he believed just like Karl Marx; that theirs was to change the world.
International solidarity is one of the key pillars of our struggle. The ANC has always strived to see the world with the eyes of a better international order, one that is equitable, just, humane and democratic.
Cuba as a country has been incredible in a manner in which they gave it all in liberating the African continent. Their involvement in our revolutionary struggle resembled Madiba’s towering legacy of humility and selflessness.
On international solidarity, Fidel Castro once said:
“In no other people has the spirit of international solidarity become so deeply rooted … over 2,000 heroic Cuban internationalist combatants gave their lives fulfilling the sacred duty of supporting the liberation struggles for the independence of other sister nations. However, there is not one single Cuban property in any of those countries. No other country in our era has exhibited such sincere and selfless solidarity (Castro,2003)
And, if there is one African leader who accordingly acknowledged the support of the Cubans was none other than Nelson Mandela who, during his first visit to Cubaenquired:
What other country has such a history of selfless behaviour as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa? How many countries benefit from Cuban health care professionals and educators? How many of these volunteers are now in Africa? What country has ever needed help from Cuba and has not received it? How many countries threatened by imperialism or fighting for their freedom have been able to count on the support of Cuba? (Mandela, 1991)
According to Noam Chomsky, an American linguist and social critic explicates the Cuba involvement as:
“Cuban had played a huge role in liberating Africa … And they did it in a completely selfless way. They [Cubans] never took credit for it. They never wanted to be known (2013:75-76).
Another iconic figure of the Cuban Revolution, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna – known as Che Guevara, further argued that:
“The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth … Far more important than a good remuneration is the pride of serving one’s neighbour. Much more definitive and much more lasting than all the gold that one can accumulate is the gratitude of a people” (1960: 1).
Almost a year ago, the Philadelphia’s Geller Foundation honoured and granted its Nelson Mandela Prize to the Cuban five who sacrificed their lives in preventing further terrorist attacks against their compatriots (Cuban) by the anti-Cuba groups operating in Miami in the early 1990s. This presented America as a nation with two faces – perhaps a nation at war with itself. The act by the Geller Foundation was a clear manifestation of the power of the struggle for freedom and justice. Its power divides even the most hegemonic nations of the world such as the US.
Of course there is some sense of resemblance between a war on terrorism against the Cubans – as pursued by the Cuban Five, and the “ideal of a democratic and free society” that Nelson Mandela cherished. This was an ideal they hoped to live or die for!
This perspective is amplified by Fidel Castro who defines a revolution as “… a struggle to the death between the future and the past”. Essentially, this was the struggle worth dying for, if needs be.
This is the ideal that has glued two great nations of the world together – South Africa and Cuba. It is upon this unity that our nations (SA-Cuba) elevated international solidary beyond civil society activism, but embraced becoming comrades-in-arms in the battlefields. The battle of Cuito Cuanavale (1988) in Angola demonstrated the intensity of our diplomatic relations.
A year after his release from prison, in 1991 , together with Fidel Castro, Madiba addressed the Matanzas rally, and bragged about the Cuito Cuanavale victory when he said:
The crushing defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale was a victory for the whole of Africa! The defeat of the apartheid army was an inspiration to the struggling people inside South Africa! Without the defeat of Cuito Cuenavale our organizations would not have been unbanned! The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuenavale has made it possible for me to be here today! Cuito Cuenavale has been a turning point in the struggle to free the continent and our country from the scourge of apartheid!” (Mandela, 1991)
The final objective in the quest for freedom and justice, the commitment shown and solidarity struggles is: everlasting peace amongst peoples and nations.
There are four key defining moments in the life of Madiba after the 1990’s unbanning and release of political prisoners. These include suspension of armed struggle, negotiated settlement resulting in the establishment of the government of national unity and Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as his presidency.
In 1992 the Boipatong and Bisho massacres took place. And in 1993 Chris Hani got assassinated and during those bleak moments, Mandela invoked his brevity and dynamic leadership as he addressed the nation and said:
“Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us… Our decisions and actions will determine whether we use our pain, our grief and our outrage to move forward to what is the only lasting solution for our country – an elected government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Mandela was an international icon who inspired many nations to unite and pursue peace at all times. According to the current Cuban President Raúl Castro:
“Mandela has set out an insurmountable example to Latin America and the Caribbean, which are currently moving towards unity and integration for the benefit of their peoples on the basis of respect for diversity and convinced that it is only through dialogue and cooperation that discrepancies can be resolved and a civilized relationship established between those who think differently. As Mandela’s life teaches us, only the concerted efforts of all nations will empower humanity to respond to the enormous challenges that today threaten its very existence.”
We dedicate this lecture to Fernando González, Ramón Labañino, René González, Gerardo Hernández and Antonio Guerrero for their heroic participation in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.
The Cuban people have always occupied a special place in the heart of every nation in the mother continent of Africa. In expression of our deepest appreciation for the support of the Cuban people in our struggle against apartheid we sing a song that goes like this:
Cuban people, loving people, here we are far home, we need you, we shall love you, for the things you have done for us!
Long Live the Spirit of Madiba!
Long Live Fidel Castro!
*Thabo Manyoni is the provincial deputy chairperson of the African National Congress and Executive Mayor of the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality. He delivered the Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture on the occasion to welcome ‘The Cuban 5’ during their visit their visit to Bloemfontein. The lecture was in honour of former South African President, the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and former Cuban statesman Fidel Castro.