Transcript copy: Joint Press Conference following the 6th Session of the South Africa-Cuba Consultative Forum by South African Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad and Cuban Deputy Minister Bruno Rodriquez, Friday 20 June 2008, Union Buildings, Pretoria

Comments by Deputy Minister Pahad

Deputy Minister Rodriguez Parrilla and his delegation; I and our delegation have had at least seven hours discussion on the occasion of the 6th SA – Cuba Joint Consultative Forum. These are political consultations between our two countries.

Historically South Africa and Cuba have an excellent relationship – we are quite conscious of the reality of the role that Cuba played not only in the liberation of Angola but also contributed massively to the democratisation of South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique. So it has been an excellent opportunity for us to have extensive discussions.

We gave an update of developments in South Africa and the challenges we face in our preparations for the elections next year and we were very fortunate to get an update of developments in Cuba and how Cubans is dealing with the challenges they face given the sanctions imposed on Cuba by the USA. But despite that Cuba has survived nearly 50 years of sanctions and is still continuing to develop.

We also discussed many regional issues. We had extensive discussions on issues in Africa including the African Union Summit; the conflict situations in Africa and the post-conflict situations like the DRC and how we can cooperate more with the Cubans in the post-conflict situations.

We were fortunate to get an excellent perspective from our colleagues on the situation in Latin America and the Caribbean and how we can then work together on those issues.

Cuba is the Chair of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and it is our view that during Cuba’s Chairpersonship, which has been excellent, the revitalisation of the movement continued and Cuba had to coordinate the efforts of the NAM better than before including in the Security Council. We believe that the Cuban Chairpersonship has laid a strong foundation for the Ministerial meeting that will take place in Tehran in August which our Minister will attend. There is also a Ministerial meeting of NAM in Venezuela which Minister Essop Pahad in the President’s Office will be attending – all important conferences that, under the chairpersonship of Cuba, we believe the organisation has been excellent.

We got a good briefing from our Cuban friends on the food security situation not just in Latin America but internationally, and the meeting that took place at the UN on this issue.

We discussed the UN resolution with regard to Cuba. In 2007 there was a unanimous vote in the UN – 108 to 4 countries rejecting the sanctions imposed against Cuba. We believe that was a good sign that the vast majority of people are seeking an end to the sanctions against Cuba and to let the Cubans decide their own future. In this respect we noted that the European Union has announced that they will lift their sanctions – we are still waiting for the details to get a better understanding of what this is all about.

Despite the challenges Cuba faced they played excellent roles in terms of how they developed and gave the systems and expertise, to many countries in Latin America.

Let me deal specifically with South Africa. This is a very special occasion because we are marking the 20th Anniversary of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale which was decisive for the liberation of the African continent.

2009 is also the 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and it will be an important occasion again for us to review developments internationally and in our respective continents. It will be the 15th Anniversary of our diplomatic relations and a very important event for us to see how we commemorate and use this occasion to educate our own people about Cuba.

On the 26th of August our senior officials will go to Cuba to assert the progress we have made in the Joint Bilateral Commission (JBC) which deals with all aspects of our bilateral relations and Minister Dlamini Zuma will also be in Havana in August. Besides the bilateral meetings there will be meetings of Heads of Missions of South Africa in the Americas. Again it is an excellent opportunity to review what we have achieved in the last few years.

It is our view that the JBC has been very successful and it has been meeting regularly since 2001.

For example, in the health field 87 South African students have completed their five-year medical studies in Cuba and have since graduated, and 63 are in the process of completing their internship training in South Africa.

There are 287 South African students studying medicine in Cuba. In addition 110 Cuban doctors are deployed at several South African provincial hospitals and 34 professors are teaching in the Faculty of Medicine at the Walter Sisulu University. Cuban Mathematics and Science tutors completed their assignments within the department of further education and Cuba has agreed to offer technical assistance for the Mathematics implementation of South Africa’s literary programmes. Cuban specialists are also working in several municipalities and we are looking at new proposals on how to develop this further.

On the housing area 22 Cuban specialists have been working in Western Cape and Gauteng and everybody has agreed that it has been a great success. The recruitment of additional Cuban technical advisors to several provinces is now being considered.

In the area of sports and recreation there are several South African sports students studying in Cuba. Visits by Cuban boxing, volleyball and baseball coaches were undertaken in order to exchange coaching expertise.

The Cuban Department of Labour has also been training about 20 South Africans in community development, occupational safety and other labour issues.

These are just some of the programmes that we have with the Cuban government and we believe the opportunity for us to expand this much more is on the agenda and we would like to thank the Cuban government and the people for giving us this these expertise. There are at least 50 000 foreign students studying in Cuba at the moment and over 40 000 Cubans working in Latin America in all the higher levels of Medicine, Engineering, Technology Training.

We have a joint programme with Cuba in Mali to help develop the health system there and we believe that can be extended much more in our trilateral relations.

Thank you for coming. We believe it has been an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas, to look at what you have contributed and see how we can use the next period to develop our relations further. Thank you.

Comments by First Deputy Minister Rodríguez Parrilla

Thank you to Deputy Minister Pahad and the South African delegation. I am deeply honoured to pay this very special visit to South Africa, land of our liberty.

There are very special historical bonds between Cuba and South Africa. We Cubans consider ourselves very proudly Latin African people and Cuba would have been impossible without African roots, culture and ancestors’ blood.

Regarding our common history, we are very proud of our humble contribution to the freedom of Africa. I visited the freedom wall and paid tribute to the African and Cuban freedom fighters and it is symbolic that relations between the two countries are a matter of pride for future generations in our countries.

360 Cuban youth participated in this historical episode of fighting against apartheid, for the independence of Namibia and defending the territorial integrity of Angola. I came here to express profound gratitude because we Cubans consider ourselves in profound debt with African people, especially with South Africa.

Thank you very much for the permanent South African support – the ANC, the South African government, the South African founding father Nelson Mandela, the South African President to the Cuban cause for several decades. The victory of the Cuba Revolution and the successful resistance for several decades of the US embargo and aggression would have been impossible without permanent and practical South African and African solidarity – Thank you very much for that.

Our personnel working in South Africa are very committed and they will come back to Cuba being better professionals, but especially better human beings.

Thank you for taking care of them and thank you for permitting us serve the South African people.

On these official talks we confirmed the excellent levels of bilateral relations and fruitful cooperation in both directions by both countries. We committed our common efforts in the NAM and multilateral fora. We will review levels of multilateral cooperation, trade and economic relations. We confirm very successful outcome of this process and at the same time the future potential in which we continue working to identify new sectors.

We had an intense level of exchange with our delegations, which is an important challenge for exchanging views and coordinating efforts. I express my respect to the leading role of South Africa at international and regional levels but specifically because of the outstanding contribution made by South Africa in NAM. Thank you very much.


Question: My question is directed to both Deputy Ministers. Earlier on you indicated that among the issues that you were going to discuss would be the issue of the run-off elections in Zimbabwe. What is it that you discussed? Linked to that, do you believe that President Mbeki’s visit to Zimbabwe has managed to persuade the MDC leader Tsvangirai to meet with President Robert Mugabe for discussions?

Answer: (Minister Pahad) Yes we briefed our friends from Cuba about SADC and the AU’s efforts and the facilitation, specifically to do everything possible to ensure that the run-offs are free and fair.

The President’s facilitation process is work in progress. And as soon as the facilitation is ready they will brief you on what progress has been made. I’ve said on several briefings that we have now over 400 SADC Observers. We have increased the number of AU Observers. We have observers from other countries that were invited. All of this is an attempt to ensure that we can assist the Zimbabwean people to have a climate in which they will feel that they can get their vote without fear and in a democratic way.

Question: The run-off elections, do you think that it is advisable for Zimbabweans to have these elections or they can just call them off in light of the ongoing discussions on the government of national unity?

Answer: (Minister Pahad) This is a decision that the Zimbabwean people must take. I don’t think South Africa or any other country has the right or the authority to impose that decision on the Zimbabwean people.

The Zimbabweans had democracy long before South Africa became democratic and free. It is not in our power to say anything to the Zimbabweans about the processes or what form of government they must have at what stage.

These are matters that they are discussing, judging from the newspaper reports. And this is their decision. South Africa and Africa will support any decision that the Zimbabwean people may take.

Question: On Cuito Cuanavale, what is the latest? What is going to happen after what we saw a month or two ago?

Answer: (Minister Rodriquez) Cuito Cuanavale is an exceptionally historical event. It changed the lives of many people. It is very symbolic and we feel proud to participate with our African sisters and brothers on this historical episode.

It has been an important step in African liberation, in defending the best human courses in this continent, an outstanding contribution to human rights exercised by everyone in their interconnectedness and universality on this continent. It is a substantial moment that changed our history.

It was possible because of the efforts of many generations from Africans, because of wisdom African leaders, because of the courage of African freedom fighters. We Cubans participated in a very humble and modest way. We did our best knowing that it was a contribution to a very just course.

In the same spirit we continue the tradition of relations with South Africa. Our contribution was in the solidarity and fraternal way, but this time with the Cuban military personnel and some of them dead on this heroic mission.

Right now we have around 40 000 Cuban personnel working in around seven countries, most of them African countries. We received around 50 000 students, most of them medical students. Half of them are training in Cuba, the other half in-situ in their countries of origin, mostly African.

We have a humanitarian operation called Operation Miracles. It is a programme of surgery for the eyes. We have performed in around 20 years more than one million surgical operations, some of them in Africa.

We launched also a programme of literacy endorsed by UNESCO with Cuban advisors and Cuban personnel. Out of this programme has benefited about 3.5 million people.

We feel that this is a historical tradition of the Cuban revolution, it is a contribution to the African and South countries development. This has got nothing to do with politics or looking for titles in newspapers. It is a matter of a very humanitarian and essential contribution. And we are very proud of that.

We have very triangular operations with the Cuban personnel, South African resources and personnel and mostly in African countries in a successful way. We are ready for expanding these operations. It is the same spirit we feel that is possible to reach a different world. South countries deserve an opportunity in this hostile international economic order, but we have to do it together. We have to work and we have to do it by ourselves.

(Minister Pahad) Let me also just add to the Cuito Cuanavale issue. It is not just events. As the Minister explained, Cuito represented one of the best acts of international solidarity. And to commemorate that it is best to use the Cuito Cuanavale today to develop the solidarity the values and other levels as the Minister was reflecting.

I think the best tribute would be to see how we can intensify cooperation in Africa, and indeed together how we can improve the lives of our own people. Hundreds of our students are studying in Cuba. Many Cubans have been working in South Africa. That is a concrete manifestation of what Cuito Cuanavale means.

We will have more events. We are hoping to have some events in Cuba itself. We hope that country groups will go there, have political seminars. I must emphasise, you can’t keep Cuito Cuanavale as an event that is not actual manifestation of genuine solidarity which is what we have to inculcate in the spirit of the Cuito Cuanavale generation.

Question: With regards to the forthcoming elections in the USA, do you think these are going to change the attitudes of people in that country?

Answer: (Minister Pahad) Well, I don’t even know who is going to win. So I can’t determine what way the results of it will be. But we do hope that whoever wins we will have a better environment within which we can deal with the very complex international challenges that we face.

It is a question of, as the Minister was saying, how do you make sure that we strengthen multilateralism. It is not about what one does or does not do. But how do we as a collective, through the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, G77 plus China, how do we then as a collective work to ensure that this new world order that must emerge is not like the one that we are seeing presently.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

20 June 2008

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