This week the world said good-bye to an icon, Fidel Castro. He was truly one of a kind. And no matter how divided the world is on the life of Castro, we in southern Africa will forever remember Castro for his truly selfless actions.
As with most things, Castro’s death has divided southern Africa and the world at large by race. For many of us black southern Africans who toiled under the joke of apartheid and colonialism by the west, Castro, the Cuban people, and indeed the iconic revolutionary Ché Guevara, would remain immortal heroes who shall forever enjoy a veneration that the west would perhaps never comprehend.
The west would forever look at Castro, and his Cuba – along with the late Hugo Chaves, as the elements that attempted, and failed to implement socialism or for some, communism. Yet, for southern Africa, and Namibia in particular, we shall forever remain indebted to Castro and the Cuban spirit of self-sacrifice.
It was Cuban forces that first responded to the scene of brutality and death at the now infamous Cassinga massacre. It was in our defence in which Cuban soldiers lost their limbs and lives. After the attack, Cuba was the first country to provide education facilities at the Island of Youth for three thousand surviving children of the Cassinga massacre.
Namibia, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique – the list is endless – would not be the countries they are today were it not for Castro and the Cuban people. We shall even go as far as to say that one wonders whether apartheid and colonialism would have ended so abruptly were it not for Cuban forces at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988.
It was under Castro’s command that Cuba risked its own national security in order to repel apartheid South Africa. Defeat at Cuito Cuanavale would have been defeat for all the oppressed masses of southern Africa and would arguably have resulted victory to colonial racist South Africa, its sponsoring states and the imperialism they represented.
Cuito Cuanavele was a watershed moment for southern Africa in general but particularly for Namibia as it led to the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 435. This culminated in Namibian Independence in 1990. The blood of Cuban fighters indeed does water the freedom of many in southern Africa.
With the exception of Russia, none of the European presidents or senior leaders dared show up for Castro’s memorial this week. The US administration’s senior leadership was a no show. This is because for the west – which was so seized with fear of communism – Castro was the devil incarnate himself.
But we mourn the man, the icon, and the revolutionary leader who rallied his country to support any anti-apartheid movement, long before there were anti-apartheid movements established in London, Brussels or Washington.
With its small budget, and an economy subjected to sanctions, Cuba trained and educated activists and soldiers while at the same time funding liberation movements across Africa.
Castro, and by extension Cuba, took on the world and went on to build the case against apartheid in the United Nations, which eventually declared the system to be a crime against humanity.
As President Hage Geingob said this week in Havana: “While we have forgiven our enemies, we will never forget our friends. The Cuban people are our friends. Fidel is our friend. Now and forever.” “¡Hasta la victoria siempre!” Commandant Fidel Castro..