Castro passed away on Friday night 25 November 2016, at the age of 90.
President Zuma said Castro led the Cuban Revolution and dedicated his entire life not only to the freedom of the Cuban people and the right of the Cuban state to sovereignty and self-determination, but also the freedom of other oppressed people around the world.
“President Castro identified with the struggle against apartheid. He inspired the Cuban people to join us in our own struggle against apartheid. The Cuban people, under the leadership and command of President Castro, joined us in our struggle against apartheid,” said President Zuma on Saturday.
After South Africa gained freedom in 1994, Cuba and South Africa, under Presidents Castro and Mandela respectively, formed a strong bond of solidarity and friendship.
Paying Tribute to Fidel Castro, President Jacob Zuma stated that
“The passing of Comrade Fidel is a painful loss for the South African people. He stood with us in solidarity, supporting our struggle including the international campaign to isolate the apartheid regime. We knew that we could rely on Cuba, a trusted friend and ally of the oppressed.
Significantly, the deep and undying special relationship between Cuba and Africa was cemented by the blood of heroic Cuban soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice for their belief in anti-imperialism, freedom and justice. Cuba deployed close to half a million soldiers and officers in Africa, to support the struggles for national independence or against foreign aggression, over 30 years.
In particular, Cuba’s Angolan intervention stands out as the greatest example of international solidarity that changed the course of history.
Comrade Fidel deployed combat troops, military advisors and equipment to defend Angola from an invasion by the racist South African Defence Force which was backed by negative proxy local forces.
The mission was also to liberate Namibia and boost the liberation efforts in South Africa between 1987 and 1988.
It was this engagement that led to the epic battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, in which the Cubans forced the South African racist apartheid regime into a humiliating and devastating retreat.
The historic defeat of the racist forces consolidated the victory of the MPLA in Angola and also laid the basis for Namibian independence in 1990, leading to South Africa’s own liberation in 1994.
We salute Comrade Fidel for this selfless sacrifice. Cuba was not looking for gold, diamonds or oil in Africa.
The Cubans only wanted to see freedom and an end to the treatment of Africa as a playground of powerful nations while people suffered. Addressing the South African parliament in 1998, Comrade Fidel said about the Cuban soldiers in Africa:
“From the African land in which they worked and fought voluntarily and selflessly, they only took back to Cuba the remains of their fallen comrades and the honour of having fulfilled their duty. That is why we know and value the human qualities of Africa much more than those that for centuries colonised and exploited this continent”.
We also recall the words of our President Oliver Tambo at the meeting of the non-aligned countries here in Havana in 1979. He said Africans had come to know the Cuban people “not merely by meeting them in their own country but because they live with us in Africa, they fight with us, they die with us, they fail and they win, with us. They have become part of the struggling people of our continent”.
Most significantly, we will remember Comrade Fidel as a great fighter for the ideal that the poor have a right to live in dignity.
That is why the Cuban revolution was and still remains an inspiration to South Africa and the world on how to achieve a better life for the poor.
Today Cuba has higher health standards than many developed countries. It has sent thousands of its doctors to many parts of the world.
South Africa has gained many Cuban doctors in our hospitals and clinics, often in the most remote areas of our country. In addition, many of our youth have qualified as medical practitioners in Cuba and many are continuing to study in this country.
Cuba had also opened the doors of its schools and universities for the education of many South Africans during our days in exile.
President Mandela remarked in 1998 during President Fidel Castro’s visit to South Africa that Cuba’s achievements in delivering social services such as education and health were an inspiration.
He said this conveyed a message to the developing world, that ignorance and disease were not “unalterable conditions of human life”.
We also admire Cuba’s unique Cuban value system, which includes a deep sense of patriotism. This is something we want our youth to learn, as we build a new society based on human solidarity in our own country”.
Courtesy of the Presidency