Address by the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Hon. Luwellyn Landers MP, on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of South Africa - Cuba Bilateral Relations: Wits University in Johannesburg; Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Your Excellency Honourable Deputy Minister Marcelino Medina;
Vice Chancellor and the Principal of Wits University;
Student Representatives and Wits University Community at large;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for being here. I am honoured to welcome you all to this Public Lecture.

On this occasion we will focus specifically on the “20th Anniversary of South Africa- Cuba Bilateral Relations”. It is just one of various activities we have undertaken since the arrival of our Cuban friends earlier this week, to mark the 20th Anniversary of our cordial and friendly bilateral relations.

Allow me to once again extend a word of warm welcome to my Cuban counterpart, the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Marcelino Medina and his delegation.

Deputy Minister Medina, this momentous occasion coincides with a very important year in the history of our young democracy. 2016 marks 20 years since the adoption and the signing into law of our Constitution. Cubans fought side by side with South Africans to ensure that we could be liberated from the yolk of racial oppression.

Furthermore, we are meeting during Africa Month, a month which our Cuban friends are very proud of. It is an important time in the history of our continent as we pay homage to the founders of the Organisation of African Unity, our present day African Union (AU) on 25 May 1963.

To all of us, Cubans are compatriots who are here to witness the fruit of their endeavours as internationalists who spared no energy in assisting Africans and South Africans to realise their dream of independence, freedom, Justice and self-reliance. They have spilled blood and some paid the ultimate, supreme sacrifice for this continent to be where it is today.

Ladies and gentlemen

Permit me to briefly reflect on some of the milestones in our relations with Cuba. Cuba’s international solidarity and support for liberation struggles of the people of the South and all peace loving people of the world have been encapsulated in Cuba’s constitution since attainment of independence in 1959.

This support and solidarity was not just an inscription in their supreme law but a commitment to the cause of the oppressed and the less privileged. Since then, the revolutionary forces of Cuba fought heroic struggles side by side with liberation movements in Africa and other parts of the world.

Ladies and gentlemen

Cubans were never hesitant to raise their voices on behalf of the oppressed masses in international forums. With other like-minded countries, Cuba ensured that apartheid was declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations (UN). We recall with pride that in 1964, an internationalist and an astute revolutionary leader, Che Guevara, articulated the position of independent Cuba regarding apartheid South Africa. On behalf of the Cuban Commander in Chief Fidel Castro, he called upon the International Community to act against the repressive apartheid regime in South Africa during the UN General Assembly and said:

“The brutal policy of apartheid is applied before the eyes of the nations of the world. The peoples of Africa are compelled to endure the fact that on the African continent the superiority of one race over another remains official policy, and that in the name of this racial superiority murder is committed with impunity. Can the United Nations do nothing to stop this?”

Ladies and gentlemen

Cuba’s internationalist solidarity commitment was not limited to a few countries and/or a selected continent. In this regard, Cuba hosted the historic Tri-Continental Conference in 1966 during which it pledged solidarity and its unwavering support in the struggle for self-determination of countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa. 

In the interest of time let me focus on Africa, specifically Cuba’s involvement in Southern Africa. I will however encourage you to study Cuba’s role in countries such as the Congo and Liberia as well as on other continents.

As you may recall, the apartheid regime implemented a destructive Regional Destabilisation Foreign Policy, particularly in countries which hosted the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation movements. These countries were known as frontline states from which our liberation movements waged a struggle against apartheid. 

Ladies and gentlemen

The then South African Defence Force (SADF) was regarded as a mighty force and an important machinery to sustain the racist regime. Little did they know that they would be tested during the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The Cuban forces fought alongside the Angolans against the powerful SADF and their foreign well-resourced backers.

I will not bore you with details, but I must indicate that Liberation Movements in the region were inspired by the victory of the Angolans, supported by the contingent of the Cuban Revolutionary Army. The winds of change gained momentum and propelled the peoples of Mozambique and Zimbabwe towards independence in the 70s. Subsequently, Namibia gained its independence in the mid 80s followed by South Africa 22 years ago.

Our iconic leader, President Mandela, reflecting on his impressions of the Cuito Cuanavale battle during his visit to Cuba on the occasion of the 38th celebrations of the Moncada victory said:

“I was in prison when I first heard of the massive assistance that the Cuban internationalist forces provided to the people of Angola, on such a scale that one hesitated to believe, when the Angolans came under combined attack of South African, CIA-financed FNLA mercenaries, UNITA, and Zairean troops in 1975. We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us”.

Ladies and gentlemen

You will recall that after repelling the 1975 Cuito Cuanavale invasion the Cubans did not withdraw from the region. They continued to support their African brothers and sisters who were faced with continued acts of aggression from the apartheid regime.

The specific details of Cuba’s continued involvement in the struggle against apartheid were reflected upon in 1977 during the visit to Cuba by the longest serving ANC President, Oliver Reginald Tambo. This was followed by the establishment of the ANC Representative Office in Havana in 1978. The then ANC Representative to the Caribbean Alex Leguma who lived in Cuba until his death in 1985 officially opened the office.

In our collective resolve to further strengthen our long-standing friendship, we opened a diplomatic mission in Havana immediately after the democratic government assumed office in 1994. Similarly, our Cuban friends established a resident diplomatic mission in Pretoria in 1995. A new era in our already strong relations was ushered in.

Ladies and gentlemen

Since the establishment of these formal diplomatic ties, we have continued to benefit from Cuba’s on-going assistance through joint programmes in areas such as health, labour, defence, social development, housing and infrastructure. Following the arrival of the first Cuban medical doctors to work in South Africa’s rural areas in 1996, Cuba’s Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro visited South Africa in 1998.

During his address to the South African parliament, the internationally acclaimed leader, President Fidel Castro shared his vision for South Africa and said:

“I think about this country and I think about its history. I see in my mind all kinds of developments, events, facts, data, realities that reflect the enormous responsibility and the colossal historical task implicit in creating the new South Africa that you intend creating”.

These words were assuring us of Cuba’s commitment to assist our leadership and the people in building the South Africa we all aspired to. It is not surprising that the implementation of the 2012 South Africa-Cuba Agreement on Cooperation in the fields of Public Health and Medical Sciences has yielded enormous results.

As you may be aware, over 400 South Africans from disadvantaged backgrounds have qualified as medical doctors through the implementation of this agreement. It is heartening to account that about 3000 South Africans are currently receiving similar training in Cuba.

Ladies and gentlemen

We are satisfied with Cuba’s continued support in pursuit of our national priorities. In this regard, you will appreciate that over 300 Cuban medical staff and engineers are working in South Africa and most of them are deployed in the peripheral areas of our beautiful land. They unselfishly render important services to our poor and marginalised communities on a daily basis.

The strength, cordiality and friendly relationship enjoins us to cooperate in a wide range of areas. In this regard, we have over 30 signed bilateral agreements with Cuba which covers areas such as arts and culture, defence, education, science and technology, health services, housing and migration.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Cuba is a country with enormous potential for development and has proven its resilience throughout the long standing economic blockade. We believe that the implementation of Cuba’s Economic Assistance Package will assist in bolstering economic development and further contribute towards the betterment of lives in the island. This package was announced by President Zuma during his State Visit to Cuba in 2010 and he stated: “As South Africa, we believe we have reached a stage where we can steer the South Africa-Cuba relationship in the direction of mutual prosperity, growth, and development.  In this regard, one of the successes of this visit is that we have finalised a two hundred and ten million rand credit line package to Cuba, aimed at boosting economic ties. This translates to about thirty million US dollars”.

Cuba remains an important global player despite longstanding economic sanctions. We acknowledge the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States of America. However, we call upon the US to once and for all lift the economic blockade. 

Furthermore, the US must return Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owners, the people and government of Cuba. In this regard, we will continue to support the efforts of the South African Chapter of the Friends of Cuba Society (FOCUS) in mobilising support in solidarity campaigns for Cuba in South Africa and elsewhere.

Ladies and gentlemen

We will continue to utilise various avenues to raise our voices in advocacy for the Cuban cause.  You would know that we are both active members of the Non Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 and China. These forums serve to collectively formulate our positions for advancement in the UN. For our part, we have continued to advocate for the needs and aspirations of developing countries such as Cuba in the UN and will continue to do so.

Deputy Minister and the Cuban Delegation

My address to you would not be complete without expressing our profound appreciation for the visit of the Cuban Five in June 2015. We were indeed humbled and honoured to host Comrades Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and René Gonzalez during their historic visit to South Africa.

These Cuban heroes are true patriots who put the interest and the wellbeing of their citizens above their personal aspirations and glory. We were inspired by their presence and wish them long and healthy lives.

Allow me to conclude by indicating that activities for the 20th Anniversary of South Africa-Cuba Bilateral Relations are encapsulated in a year-long programme and will take place in South Africa and Cuba respectively. These activities will be undertaken at various levels and the media as well as the public will be kept informed of these at the appropriate time.

Long live South Africa-Cuba relations Long live!!!

I thank you.


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