What we've learnt from Cuba - Marius Fransman

ANC WCape leader notes that the Masakha iSizwe - build the nation initiatve has produced incredible results

Article by Marius Fransman, ANC Provincial Chairperson Western Cape on the occasion of the 61st Anniversary of the storming of the Moncado Barracks, Havanna, Cuba


On the occasion of the 38th anniversary of the storming of the Moncada Barracks, Mandela met with Fidel Castro in Havanna in 1991, giving a historic speech alongside him entitled "How Far We Slaves Have Come" in which he highlighted the ‘special place' that Cuba has in the heart of the people of Africa saying: "From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has also been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people..". As we commemorate this 61st anniversary, we reflect on this special relationship and ask the question: How far will we slaves go?

The brave Cuban nation has demonstrated that they were prepared to go all the way. At the first Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Summit in Belgrade in September 1961, Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado denounced apartheid. Attending the United Nations (UN) Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva in 1961, Che Guevara, the minister of industry, said that South Africa ‘violates the Charter of the United Nations by the inhuman and fascist policy of apartheid', and he called for South Africa's expulsion from the UN. Speaking at the 19th General Assembly of the UN in New York in December 1964, Guevara pointed to the UN's failure to act against apartheid.

Following the meeting of Che Guevarra with MK Commander-in-Chief Nelson Mandela in Algeria, the Cubans offered military support and training to the ANC and its cadres in exile. In 1977, Cubans began training African National Congress (ANC) cadres at Nova Catengue in Angola, instructing them in guerrilla warfare. After the camp was bombed by the South African Air Force, the camp was moved to the Quibaxe area of Kwanza Norte province. Since 1961 already Cuba began to receive students from the Republic of Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville and Mali, and in 1963 Cuba sent a team of medics to newly liberated Algeria. By 1999 more than 28,000 African students had graduated from educational institutions in Cuba, and more than 76,000 Cubans had served in Africa in some capacity or other.          

Much has been written about Cuba's role in our liberation and the liberation struggle in Southern Africa and the rest of our continent. The Cubans fought bravely side by side with freedom fighters in a number of African states. In Angola they fought in a number of battles such as Quifangodo, Cabinda, Ebo and other sites from 1976 to 1988. None were more graphic than the heroic tale of Cuito Cuanavale that ultimately led to routing the might of the Apartheid war machine and precipitated a negotiated settlement ‘forcing PW Botha and De Klerk to the table'.

Equally graphic is the tale of struggle of more than 36 000 gallant fighters who fought alongside us in Angola and the sacrifice of more than 2070 brave Cuban fighters who gave their lives for our freedom. When the edifice of the Apartheid state crumbled, the Cubans returned to their distant island home with only the clothes on their back and extracting no spoils of war or reward other in the annals of the brave and courageous.

It is said that all is fair in love and war but in our post liberation phase this special place in our hearts that Cuba still occupies deserves more than just the names of Cuban martyrs carved on a list in Freedom Park in Pretoria. Cuba not only gifted us the lives of its brave fighters, its spirit of International Solidarity has had an indelible influence on our own view of the world and the struggles of fellow Africans and other just struggles for human rights all over the world such as Palestine. In fact, International Solidarity constitutes a cardinal principle of our foreign policy.

Since the dawn of democracy a number of South African missions have been undertaken to Cuba drawing on the Cuban experience. It is difficult not to conclude that the most successful of these lessons has been the profound sense of Cuban patriotism that permeates all aspects of Cuban life. A leaf we would do well to borrow from the Cuban book. It is this patriotism that underpins Cuba's continued development support and humanitarian spirit even training community health care workers to work in the Black American ghettoes.

Since 1994 South Africa has benefitted from Cuban expertise in a number of sectors including the health sector, housing and public works. Cuban doctors serve in remote locations in every province except in the Western Cape under DA rule. Cuban engineers have played a seminal role in our infrastructure development especially the roll-out of World Cup 2010 infrastructure acclaimed by all and sundry. From the Cuban model we learnt valuable lessons in community policing with our own Bambanani Community Policing initiative drawing lessons from the way Cuban communities organise themselves in street committees and Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs).

Few of the lessons though capture the imagination as two programmes I piloted based upon my own experience and association with Cuba. The Cuban model of taking students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and even the ghettoes of New York, Miami and Chicago and providing them with a comprehensive support system inspired me to take young aspiring students from the South African ghettoes and enrol them in various disciplines in the built environment.

This partnership between government, academia and business under the umbrella of the Masakha iSizwe -build the nation, produced incredible results taking learners from the barriers of failure with results bordering on the low 30 percent side right up to the rarified 80 percenters within a very short space of time.

The Masakha iSizwe learners not only excelled in their own academic progress at university but took on a pilot high school in Mitchells Plain that produced phenomenal maths and science results catapulting the matric pupils' results whom they were tutoring and mentoring into the 80 percent average range. This project was of such high quality that when the DA government came to power in 2009 they could but continue this brilliant ANC programme inspired by the Cubans and Premier Zille had no choice but to hail its success in her subsequent State of the Province Address.

The Umsebenzi Work Portal was also inspired by Cuban genius and based on the simple principle of knowing your community as in the CDRs and street committees gathering from the lowest level of information such as personal profiles to matching job opportunities with available skills. It gave visceral support to community development workers enabling the targeting of the most poverty stricken communities in the Western Cape and ground-breaking projects such as the Expanded Public Works Programme. This initiative has gone on to inspire a number of other similar approaches such as the Presidential hotline, the National Youth Development Association (NYDA) Jobs Portal and even Namibia's work portal.

The last five years has seen an intensified effort at strengthening relations on the bilateral front and pursuing an agenda that attests to a bond forged in the heat of struggle yet withstanding the vicissitudes of the heady space of global realpolitik and its attendant pressures.

The year 2014 marks 20 years of fruitful relations with Cuba. Ties of culture, history, shared struggles and common aspirations join Cuba to South Africa and the Continent of Africa. The celebration of 20 years of diplomatic bilateral relations between South Africa and Cuba is a major achievement. In respect of the pursuit of our international solidarity with Cuba, there are over thirty (30) signed bilateral agreements in place between our two countries covering vast areas of cooperation for example arts and culture, defence, education, science and technology, health services, housing as well home affairs.

South Africa's Strategic Foreign Policy Objectives towards growing our bilateral and multilateral relations with Cuba remain steadfast. We continue, under the auspices of the SA-Cuba Joint Consultative Mechanism, to consolidate our political, bilateral and multilateral relations and to explore avenues for further cooperation. Our mutual support in multilateral forums remains unwavering.

South Africa will continue to energetically support all solidarity programmes and activities that expose the tyranny and brutality of US policy towards Cuba and we commit to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Cuban people in their struggle against the US economic embargo. In this regard, President Jacob Zuma has, during the past number of years, in his State of the Nation Address, called for the release of the Cuban five and immediate end to the continued unilateral economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba by the United States of America.

We slaves have indeed come a long way but much still needs to be done. The Cuban's would be the first to deny that we owe them a debt of gratitude. They in their unassuming humility would argue that they were only doing their duty, that they were only being true to their own commitment to a world that is just, that they were only responding to the revolutionary command of Cde Fidel Castro, that they were only heeding Che's words that as long as there is a single human being suffering anywhere our struggle cannot be over. Such is the Cuban spirit that reflects how far we slaves have come. Such is the Cuban spirit that determines how far we slaves will still go despite the odds.

Issued by the ANC Western Cape, July 28 2014

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