By Comrade Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary
Friday 25 November 2016 will go down in human history as the day the world lost one of its greatest leaders. The leader and Commander-in-Chief of the Cuban Revolution, former President of Cuba and First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Comrade Fidel Castro Ruz, passed away on that day, at the age of 90. Comrade Fidel, as he was fondly addressed in Cuba, belonged to the rarest breed of finest revolutionaries. He made an invaluable contribution in the struggle for the emancipation of humanity. The bourgeoisie hated him, precisely because he firmly fought for an end to their exploitative and oppressive capitalist and imperialist system. This prize is the fate of a true revolutionary – a true revolutionary cannot be liked by the exploiters of the working class, the oppressors of the people, counter-revolutionaries, reactionaries and charlatans. Comrade Fidel was a communist par excellence. To the end he fought for the overthrow of foreign domination, capitalism and imperialism.
The SACP dips its red flag in honour of Comrade Fidel – A communist till the end!
The South African Communist Party dips the red flag to mourn this gallant revolutionary, undoubtedly one of the greatest revolutionaries human society has ever produced. In particular, Comrade Fidel supported many national liberation struggles, including the all-important struggle to realise and defend Cuba’s national sovereignty and that of other nations. Comrade Fidel understood that a progressive struggle to safeguard national sovereignty is a strong antidote to imperialist expansionist ambitions, and yet it is another important platform to forge principled internationalist solidarity.
It was with deep sorrow to receive the sad news that Comrade Fidel passed away. At the same time Comrade Fidel’s passing away must start a process of celebrating his life and role in the struggle to serve humanity. Indeed the Cuban Revolution has not been of the Cuban people alone, but has inspired millions in Latin America, Africa and the world over. It is for this reason that Cuba has for decades enjoyed worldwide solidarity against the illegal economic blockade imposed by the United States.
The SACP forged strong links with the Communist Party of Cuba during Comrade Fidel’s leadership. Many SACP cadres studied and trained in Cuba during the darkest day, apartheid repression. These fraternal relations were strengthened and continued to this day. Even when Cuba was going through one of the most trying times, the difficulties brought by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba never shirked from its internationalist commitments. My first visit to Cuba was during this time. I vividly recall the electricity cuts and food rationing, amongst others, but through the leadership of Comrade Fidel and the Communist Party of Cuba the country managed to get out of that situation whilst continuing to send its doctors to many parts of the world.
Fidel, a fighter for social and economic justice – A vanguard in the struggle for socialism:
Comrade Fidel will be remembered for the success of the Cuban Revolution in lifting the quality of life of the people with meagre resources that have, for over half-a-century, been heartlessly squeezed under imperialist onslaught and pressure directed mainly but not exclusively from the United States (U.S).
For example, Cuba outdoes the U.S. in education areas such as government spending on education as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product in which area Cuba is ranked 1st and the U.S 39th; children out of school – primary, per 1000; pupil to teacher ratio – secondary school; college and university gender parity index; college and university share of total education spending. In Cuba, healthcare is universal. In the U.S it is not. Cuba has a high ranking life expectancy rate at birth, by far surpassing many countries. These are some of the fruits of the relentless struggle that was led by Comrade Fidel to overthrow the dictatorship of the U.S-backed Fulgencio Batista.
Before then, the labour of the people of Cuba, their basic resources and wealth, were exploited by and to the benefit mainly of U.S imperialist capital. Only an elitist group and its patronage networks both created as a buffer between the exploited majority and the exploiters wallowed in the crumbs that fell from the tables of imperialist economic control. This was to become the base of counter-revolutionary elements against the Cuban Revolution, against the Cuban people.
For the liberation and independence of the African continent – a principled, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist vanguard cadre:
Comrade Fidel will be remembered also for offering unconditional international solidarity support to the struggles of the peoples of the world. Hundreds of thousands of Cuban volunteers worked under his brilliant leadership and fought in 17 countries in our African continental independence struggles.
Cuba’s support in our continent did not end there. It continues to this day. During the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus, Cuba, a small island, had the largest contingent of healthcare workers to combat the deadly contagion. None of the so-called developing countries, which by the way amassed that status by under-developing our continent, Latin America and others, could match Cuba’s role in this regard.
In our own country South Africa, Comrade Fidel will best be remembered by all democratic and peace loving people for his deployment, from 1976 to 1988, of 60 000 Cuban troops in Angola to fight alongside the People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola. It was this solidarity effort that stopped and, at the historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale, pushed back and defeated apartheid South Africa’s Western-backed forces. The apartheid regime’s defence force was thereafter forced also to withdraw from Namibia. These two historic events directly led to the independence of Namibia on 21 March 1990 and laid a strong foundation for the realisation of our own April 1994 Democratic Breakthrough.
Cuba’s support to our national democratic revolution did not end there. The Cuban Revolution continues to support our struggle for democratic transformation and development. As part of this support, South Africa is proudly a beneficiary of many Cuban doctors who are looking after the healthcare needs of our people, including in remote rural areas where there are either few or no South African doctors. Cuba is host to 3 000 South African student doctors, twice the number of doctors who graduate in South Africa every year.
Selfless, not even a discrete particle of soil, not even a cent to Cuba: An important distinguishing feature initiated by Comrade Fidel in Cuba’s international solidarity work!
Everywhere Cuba offered support – it never took away anything, not even a discrete particle of soil, not even a cent, except the remains of their casualties where any occurred, such as in Angola during the defeat of the forces of apartheid South Africa. Compare this to the looting of our continental resources by the under-developers, colonisers and imperialists, the U.S and its European allies!
Yet they, especially the U.S spoke ill of Comrade Fidel and even labelled him a dictator. How could a dictator be overwhelmingly so much loved and defended in his own country and revered by millions of the oppressed and the exploited across the world? The U.S is the actual dictator and for that matter an imperialist regime!
Fidel, a fierce defender of Cuban independence and its chosen socialist path!
In spite of their large amounts of efforts in fabricating volumes of propaganda smearing Comrade Fidel by misinformation, the successive U.S imperialist regimes actually recognised that he did not fight as a lone man in the struggle. He inspired workers, peasants, students and other strata to fight against economic exploitation and imperialist domination, and to forge ahead with socialist construction and defence of the Cuban Revolution. The misinformation by the U.S and its allies did not succeed to turn the people and pit them against Comrade Fidel and the Communist Party of Cuba. Only a minority, as it would happen in many cases, either bought into that propaganda or were bought to propagate it.
A resilient, highly trained and well-experienced strategic and tactical fighter:
Comrade Fidel not only survived many assassination plots. Each time he emerged more than ever resolute as an immensely popular and revered leader in the worldwide anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, movement for liberation and universal human emancipation. For example he survived over 638 assassination attempts directed mainly by U.S imperialism with its sky high military spending, more than that of any nation on earth and in many cases by far surpassing spending on the social needs of many countries of the world: Yet the U.S, under its imperialist dictatorship of the world and its policy regime of neoliberalism,demanded and in many cases succeeded to force oppressed nations to cut social spending.
According to a 351-page report of the U.S’s own Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activitiesentitled “Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign leaders”, “United States leaders, including most Members of Congress, called for vigorous action to stem the Communist infection in this hemisphere”. According to the report, it was policy to “get rid of Castro”. The U.S Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Richard Helms is quoted in the report saying the pressure “intensified during the period of Operation MONGOOSE and continued through much of 1963”. Operation Mongoose was a covert operation of the CIA developed during the first year of U.S President John F. Kennedy’s administration. Helms is further quoted in the report as saying as the pressure “to get rid of Castro” increased, “obviously the extent of the means that one thought were available … increased too”.
The U.S intensified its propaganda of misinformation about Comrade Fidel as the pressure to get rid of him intensified. Uncritical consumers of U.S propaganda, including in South Africa, simply regurgitated the fabrications. For those who do not see the bigger picture, the position adopted by the U.S. was only against Fidel as an individual leader. The reality, on the contrary, is that this system of antagonism went beyond the person of Comrade Fidel, Cuba and the Western Hemisphere – which the U.S regarded as its own backyard for exploitation and domination.
The sin committed by the Cuban people under the leadership of Fidel was to fight for national independence and control of their country’s resources, labour and its proceeds.
The hostility by the U.S was wider, to this day it continues to apply to the rest of humanity, especially those of us who stand on the side of democratic national sovereignty and control of our own resources, labour and its proceeds. This is why the U.S labelled as terrorists, our own leaders such as Comrade Nelson Mandela and many others. The U.S. maintained this classification well beyond our 1994 democratic breakthrough.
The Cuban Revolution, since its victory on 1 January 1959 has experienced relentless counter-revolutionary, including terrorist, attacks. The U.S-backed Bay of Pigs invasion was defeated in April 1961. This was a CIA sponsored attempted military coup to overthrow Cde Fidel and defeat the Cuban Revolution.
One of the brutal terrorist attacks against Cuba was made on 6 October 1976 when Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 from Barbados to Jamaica was bombed, killing all 73 people on board the Douglas DC-8 aircraft.
The U.S imperialist aggression against Cuba was multifaceted. It involved an economic warfare including the now more than half-a-century illegal economic blockade of Cuba and the occupation of the Guantanamo Bay – which the U.S has since been using as its centre of human rights atrocities.
The real cost of the illegal U.S economic blockade on Cuba is yet to be conclusively calculated – including all the economic and social consequences of the atrocious pushback against Cuban national development.
In memory of Fidel we will deepen our solidarity with Cuba!
On behalf of the SACP I want to reiterate our Party’s just call to the U.S to lift its illegal economic blockade of Cuba unconditionally. The SACP also calls for the U.S to evacuate and handover Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans, as it is part of Cuba.
To Donald Trump, the man who stands to become the next president of the U.S:
The SACP says, Sir, there is still time, before your inauguration, to discard what we would call your Trumpishness – that is, your recklessly harsh and often racist utterances and uncaring attitude towards the circumstances of others especially against Cuba, Mexicans, women, Muslims, and Africans and Diaspora.
As the SACP, we will stand with Cuba in support of its just struggles and choices to pursue the humane – socialist – path of development.
The SACP also takes this opportunity to salute the people of Cuba for their courage and resoluteness in defence of their motherland. We also salute the workers and poor of the world and all progressive movements and parties for having stood firm in solidarity with the Cuban revolution. The best way to preserve the memory of Comrade Fidel is to intensify this solidarity: Always, until all forms of aggression against Cuba and its people are defeated.
In our country, we will honour the memory of Comrade Fidel by intensifying our struggle for socialism under our strategic and programmatic slogan:
Socialism is the future, build it now!
This means intensifying the immediate struggle to drive a second, more radical phase of our democratic transition. It means intensifying the fight against monopoly capital, corporate capture and the parasitic bourgeoisie, and relentlessly fighting corruption wherever it occurs. It means building a broad popular front of working class and the people to strengthen our movement and realise the goals of our revolution.
One of Cde Fidel’s early successes that had a lasting impact on the course of the Cuban revolution was the merger between the earlier Cuban Communist Party, the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP) with the July 26 movement founded by Comrade Fidel in 1953. This merger led to the formation of the current Partido Communista de Cuba (PCC) – the Communist Party of Cuba in 1965, with Comrade Fidel as its founding First Secretary. It has been the unity of the Communist Party of Cuba that has guaranteed the success and advances of the Cuban Revolution.
Unity, the best tribute!
The unity of the Cuban Communist Party and the Cuban movement must be a lesson for us as the national liberation movement in South Africa as we bid farewell to Comrade Fidel. It is only united movements that are able to make decisive revolutionary advances. Divided movements can only lead to serious setbacks and even defeat of the revolution. The ANC in particular and the Alliance as a whole need to take this lesson to heart, especially during this period when our revolution, as well as the unity of the movement, is seriously at stake.
Let us not only honour Comrade Fidel through speeches and written articles, but let us honour him by acting to unite ourselves and set aside any factionalist interests that can only lead to the destruction of our movement.
Adios Comrade Fidel: On a personal note
I cannot resist ending this tribute by mentioning some of the instances where I had had the privilege to listen to and meet with Comrade Fidel personally.
In the 1990s I had the privilege of being delegated by the SACP to Cuba. Sometime in the mid-1990s I represented the SACP at the Latin American Left platform called the São Paulo Forum, attended by many leaders from left political parties and movements. Comrade Fidel addressed the Forum, which was held at the Havana Convention Centre. I remember very well in his off the cuff remarks Comrade Fidel admonishing the Sandinista leader Comrade Daniel Ortega who was in attendance that he was worried Ortega was too relaxed and the imperialists were going to kill him as they feared the Sandinistas might return to power. Indeed the Sandinistas came back with Ortega as President of Nicaragua.
In one of my other visits to Cuba I had an opportunity to listen again to Cde Fidel addressing a gathering at the Karl Marx Theatre in Havana. He spoke for five hours without a speech, which became his trademark! But I only had an occasion to personally interact with Comrade Fidel on his visits to South Africa. He had a state visit in 1998 and had the pleasure to be amongst the Members of Parliament who listened to him on that occasion.
I was also amongst the comrades who accompanied him to tour Robben Island. I remember the shock on his face when he saw Comrade Mandela’s prison cell, asking the same question most people ask when they see that cell, as to how such a tall person as Madiba could fit into such a small size of a cell. When Madiba and Fidel met again in September 2001 in Madiba’s house at Houghton in Johannesburg, I remember very well Comrade Fidel asking Madiba this same question. I could see the sense of shock when looking into that cell, but I was at the same time sensing some relief on his part that because of, amongst others, the victory of the Cuban and Angolan forces in Cuito Cuanavale, Robben Island was no longer a prison but a museum symbolising the victory of progressive forces over the forces of evil!
I was truly honoured for Comrade Madiba to invite me to the meeting of September 2001, mentioned above. This was a private meeting between Madiba and Fidel at his Houghton home as Comrade Fidel had attended an international gathering in South Africa. On inviting me over the phone, Comrade Madiba joked that he was not feeling safe to meet a leading Cuban Communist on his own, so I better join him so that in case of danger his own fellow Communist could protect him. Were this true I do not know how I was going to do that because I noticed that day that both these tall men were of the same height! Where would I have fitted in that equation!? But on arriving at Madiba’s house he changed the story and said to me and Fidel that he invited me because he wanted to show Comrade Fidel that it was not only Cuba that had Communists but South Africa too! I really enjoyed that conversation between these two giants which lasted for over an hour!
I remember they also exchanged their respective experiences about prison, although Comrade Fidel quickly requested Madiba to speak more about that subject as he had more experience since he spent 27 years in prison! Castro said his story of prison had faded comrade to that of Madiba as he had only spent 2 years in Batista’s prison between 1953 and 1955!
A humble person indeed!
To El Comandante, our dearest Comrade Fidel we say: ¡Hasta la victoria siempre! Always, until victory!