`Internationalism contributed to victory'
South Africa president Nelson Mandela addresses Cuba solidarity conference, the Militant, Vol. 59, no. 39, 23 October 1995
Following is a speech by South African president Nelson Mandela to the opening of the Southern Africa-Cuba Solidarity Conference, which took place in Johannesburg October 6-8. The text was transcribed by the Militant from a tape recording. Subheadings are by the Militant.
Comrades, chairperson, and delegates,
Some time ago, in the past five years, an African leader visited a country, I won't say on which continent, but I will say that the visitor waved back to the crowds as their host head of state had them tour through the streets. There were huge crowds. And they cheered the two leaders.
At that moment the host just laughed and said to the visitor, "These cheers are not meant for you, they are meant for me." [Laughter]
I went to Cuba in July 1991, and I drove through the streets with Fidel Castro. There were a great deal of cheers. And I also waved back believing that these cheers were for me. [Laughter] Fidel was very humble, he smiled but he never said a word. [Laughter] But when I reached the square where I had to make some remarks to the crowd, then I realized that these cheers were not meant for me, they were meant for Fidel Castro. Because everybody forgot about me, and was really aroused by Fidel Castro.
Then I realized that here was a man of the masses. Because he went around shaking hands of a large number of people in the crowd. And all of them rejoiced in the excitement of the time.
Those are the impressions I have about Fidel Castro in Cuba. [Applause]
Fidel was one of the first heads of state whom we asked to pay a state visit to our country.
We expected him in June or July, which was the time we had mutually agreed upon. But unfortunately, due to commitments at home, he was unable to honor that invitation.
We have now extended an open invitation to him because it is one way in which we can show our gratitude and indebtedness to him and to the people of Cuba. [Applause]
Deeply indebted to Cuban people
We have come together as Southern Africans to acknowledge a history of struggle and the legions of internationalists who contributed to our victory. In this sense, this first-ever Southern Africa-Cuba Solidarity Conference constitutes an expression of the region's fulfillment: that at last we can meet not merely as victims of colonialism, apartheid, and underdevelopment seeking the solidarity of others.
Rather, we meet as free peoples, to acknowledge that our freedom and sovereignty as nations are incomplete if others are subjected to privations. Our efforts to build a better life are the poorer if others are denied the environment to pursue their aspirations.
It is both opportune and natural that among the first beneficiaries of our humble act of solidarity should be the people of Cuba. As Southern Africans, we are deeply indebted to the Cuban people for the selfless contribution they made to the anticolonial and antiapartheid struggle in our region.
I am sure that this conference will convey our sense of friendship, admiration, respect, and concern to the people of Cuba. They are going through an exceptionally difficult period. We extend our hand of friendship to them, just as they were with us through the terrible years of war that ravaged the southern region of our continent.
I would like, therefore, to salute the South African solidarity groups that have worked hard to convene this path-breaking conference. [Applause] There are now several Cuba Friendship Associations throughout our country, from Pietersburg to Cape Town, from Gauteng to Durban, and Port Elizabeth. These groups have emerged from the soil of a genuine popular sense of solidarity with Cuba.
Through these activities, you are confirming that international relations are not merely about inter-state engagement. They are first and foremost relations among peoples. As such, a robust civil society is critical in the formulation of foreign policy.
Example of mine workers
I have heard, with a sense of real emotion and pride, of how poorly paid mine workers have collected money for Cuba. I have read that they have donated their own overalls and boots, and bought mine-lamps and safety gear for their Cuban brothers. [Applause] These workers on South African mines come from several countries of our region.
We therefore greet with pride the delegations that have come from all over Southern Africa and beyond to attend this conference. Your presence in our country, for such an occasion, honors us. It underlines the common debt we feel towards Cuba.
Comrades and friends,
Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers. [Applause] They have shared the same trenches with us in the struggle against colonialism, underdevelopment, and apartheid. Hundreds of Cubans have given their lives, literally, in a struggle that was, first and foremost, not theirs but ours. As Southern Africans we salute them. We vow never to forget this unparalleled example of selfless internationalism.
We wish also to record our indebtedness to Cuban hospitality. In particular, tens of thousands of young Southern Africans have been trained, and some are still training, in Cuban schools and universities. Today, in many different fields - in the health sector, in government, and in the army - there are many young professionals, contributing to the development of our country, who owe their skills to the generous training provided to them by Cuba. [Applause]
The bonds acknowledged through this campaign were therefore forged in struggle, in sacrifice, and in the many concrete benefits that we enjoy as a region today. Our solidarity acknowledges the past as much as it expresses a morality in international relations: underpinned by equality, sovereignty, and the right of peoples to choose their own destiny.
We have noted with appreciation that, in the past months, a number of very large and established South African corporations have joined European and other companies to become actively involved in trade and major industrial joint ventures in Cuba. There are many areas as well, in which South Africans will gain from our relations with Cuba. We welcome all this, precisely because of the mutual benefits that it will bring.
The majority of South Africans reject an approach to foreign relations premised on nostalgia for the Cold War. They reject the notion that Cuba should be starved to ideological submission. As government, we are firm in our view that it is in the interest of South Africa to have diplomatic relations and multilateral ties of co-operation with Cuba. [Applause]
Our foreign minister, comrade Alfred Nzo, is now in the United States of America. He will visit Cuba on Monday, next Monday [October 9]. We are doing so because we want it to be known all over the world that we remain committed to friendship and solidarity between Cuba and South Africa. [Applause]
Pressure to condemn Cuba
Many people, many countries, including many powerful countries, have called upon us to condemn the suppression of human rights in Cuba.
We have reminded them they have a short memory. [Laughter]
For when we battled against apartheid, against racial oppression, the same countries were supporting the apartheid regime. [Applause] A regime that represented only 14 percent of the population, while the overwhelming majority of the people of the country had no rights whatsoever. They supported the apartheid regime. And we fought successfully against that regime with the support of Cuba and other progressive countries.
They now want to be our only friends, and dare to ask us to renounce those people who made our victory possible. That is the greatest contempt for the morality and the principles which are the basis of our relations, not only with the various population groups in this country, but with the entire world.
And I wanted to make a commitment that we will never let our friends down, friends during the most difficult period of our struggle, especially Cuba. [Applause]
Friends and comrades,
Let me assure you that the African National Congress, and the great majority of South Africans, will never forget those who stood by us in the darkest years of our struggle against apartheid. Along with the majority of humanity, we are determined to be active participants in the noble effort for a just world order.
I wish this conference every success. I am sure that you will translate your deliberations into practical work in the coming months and years.