New African Magazine - APRIL 2008

New African Magazine - APRIL 2008
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Coverstory Castro Castro of Africa... his life and work are a challenge to the continent In the 1970s and 80s, Fidel Castro sent 350,000 Cuban soldiers, civilians and doctors to support the African liberation struggle, especially in Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, and Sao Tome & Principe. The Cuban effort eventually hastened the demise of apartheid in South Africa. In the evening of his life, and having just retired from the Cuban presidency, Fidel Castro deserves to be honoured by Africa, by the African Union. Baffour Ankomah argues that such an honour will boost the morale of the foreign friends of Africa, past and present, to do even more for the continent and also assure them that their many sacrifices on behalf of Africa have not been in vain. A good 2,077 Cubans died fighting for Africa.

The British had their Lawrence of Arabia; we have our Castro of Africa. Nelson Mandela was in jail when Fidel Castro, then president of Cuba, sent 300,000 Cuban soldiers and another 50,000 civilians and doctors across the Atlantic to fight in Africa’s liberation wars, particularly in Angola against Western-sponsored proxies then in power in South Africa and Zaire (under Mobutu) who were trying to prevent the Southern African countries from attaining true independence. After the Cuban and their Angolan, Namibian and ANC allies decisively defeated the then feared South African defence forces in Angola, it brought independence not only to Angola and Namibia, but also accelerated the death of apartheid itself in South Africa. No wonder, when Nelson Mandela met Castro for the first time in Havana in July 1991, 17 months after his release from 27 years in jail, the future South African president gave Castro a bear hug so big as though he was meeting his long lost brother for the first time in 100 years! Mandela would later ask: “What other country can claim to have been as altruistic as Cuba in its relations with Africa? Castro is a man of the masses.” Four years later, in a speech at the opening of the Southern African-Cuban Solidarity Conference in Johannesburg on 6 October 1995, Mandela revealed that “Fidel was one of the first heads of state we have asked to pay a state visit to our country, because it is one way in which we can show our gratitude and indebtedness to him and to the people of Cuba.”