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The legacy of Fidel Castro for southern Africa and beyond


Ronnie Kasrils was Minister of the Intelligence Services of South Africa from 2004 to 2008.

We salute Fidel this 13th August along with the Cuban people and humanity. Fidel will live on in Africa, as everywhere else, as an everlasting icon of liberation in all its forms. Fidel Lives! Siempre. Venceremos!

An earlier version of this article was published on Prensa Latina website.

From the 1960s the nom de guerre of “Castro” was popular among freedom fighters in Southern Africa. Today, the sons of many offspring of those guerrillas bear the name Fidel or Fidelis, in Africa, as in Latina-speaking countries and elsewhere.

That “60s generation” was immensely inspired by Fidel Castro Ruz’s epic leadership of the Cuban Revolution in overthrowing tyranny, confronting imperialism, transforming society and the historic lessons of international solidarity. Generations since have learnt those motivational lessons, have studied in Cuba, continue to follow his legendary footsteps, in theory and practise, of one of the foremost revolutionaries of modern times. His life and legacy are intrinsically bound up with Africa’s destiny and the undying gratitude of its peoples, along with the rest of humanity.

In Fidel’s immortal words, after forcing the ignominious retreat of the racist South African military from Angola in 1988:

“The history of Africa will be written as before and after Cuito Cuanavale.” 

From 1975, Cuban internationalist forces under the direction of Commandante Fidel had helped save the independence of emergent People’s Angola from those same racist invaders and the CIA-backed counter-revolutionary bandits.

Becoming aware of these historic developments from his prison cell through secret means, Nelson Mandela wrote in praise that “it was the first time that a country had come from another continent not to take something away, but to help Africans to achieve their freedom.” 

Assisting Angola over the following years, those self-same reactionaries finally met their fate at the five-month-long battle for Cuito Cuanavale, which sent them packing. The outcome was Angola being free of foreign forces from that time on; the subsequent independence of Namibia from Pretoria’s occupation in 1990; followed by freedom for South Africa in 1994. Mandela stated that victory at Cuito Cuanavale “destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor and inspired the fighting masses of South Africa.”

It can be said that it helped provide the key to unlocking racist rule in the southern part of the continent. Alleviating the menacing shadow of apartheid over the entire region.

I had been privileged to have been present in Havana, as a member of a South African Communist Party (SACP) delegation in 1988, when Fidel briefed us at a huge topographical map of the southern part of Angola, as to how that epic Cuito Cuanavale battle had been won.

I was privileged when at the presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela, in Pretoria on 27 March 1994, the greatest approval for a foreign guest by the cheering masses was reserved for the legendary Cuban leader: Fidel! Fidel! And Cuba! Cuba! They chanted in unison.

I was yet again privileged to escort Fidel on a naval ship out of Cape Town in September 1998, to Robben Island, when he visited Nelson Mandela’s one-time prison cell, and he was so visibly moved.

On 4 September, a few days earlier, he addressed the South African Parliament in what he described as having dreamed of such an experience “like a love letter to a sweetheart written thousands of miles away, without knowing how she thinks or what she wants to hear and without even knowing what her face looks like”.

On the same occasion Fidel reminded us that 461,956 Cuban soldiers fought side by side with Africans for their liberation and “from these African soils, where they worked and fought voluntarily and selflessly, they have only taken back home to Cuba the remains of their fallen comrades and the honour of a duty accomplished”.

It is the privilege of southern Africa’s people to have shared trenches, trained and studied in Cuba, received unstinting aid in countless ways not only on the battlefields, including presently that of the gallant Cuban health workers in the struggle against Covid-19. This, of course, is the experience of people around the world, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but amazingly too in European countries such as Italy. As it does elsewhere in the Caribbean and Latin America, Cuba continues to send medical professionals to Africa – over 50,000 Cuban doctors worldwide, including in 32 African countries.

When we launched our armed struggle in the 1960s there was a popular song we composed to a calypso beat:

“Take the country the Castro way!”

By the time freedom and independence came through bloody struggles, we came to realise so much more about the examples Cuba provided in people’s living conditions, healthcare and education, housing and social welfare, overcoming colonial backwardness and inequalities, the provision of security for the people and defence of the revolution.

In the enormous global struggle against imperialist domination, exploitation and racism; military aggression and counter-revolutionary regime-change; capitalism’s gargantuan divide between wealth for the privileged few and crushing poverty for billions; horrific diseases such as Covid-19 in the wake of environmental peril; those words, “Take the country the Castro way”, are alive in our hearts.

The song inspires hope, motivates united action, signposts Fidel’s immortal teachings and vision of the future. 

We salute Fidel this 13th August along with the Cuban People and humanity. Fidel will live on in Africa, as everywhere else, as an everlasting icon of liberation in all its forms.

Fidel Lives! Siempre. Venceremos! DM


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