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Date: Mon, 16 Oct 1995 06:54:42 -0400
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Subject: Mandela: Cuba shared trenches
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Title: Mandela: Cuba shared the trenches with us {lead story}
S. African president praises `unparalleled internationalism'

Mandela: Cuba shared the trenches with us; S. African president praises `unparalleled internationalism'

By Argiris Malapanis and Roman Kane,
the Militant, Vol. 59, no. 39, 23 October 1995

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - "Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonizers," said South African president Nelson Mandela at the opening of a Cuba-Southern Africa solidarity conference here October 6.

"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."

Mandela was referring to the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who served on internationalist missions in Angola from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s. Cuban volunteer troops helped defeat successive invasions of that country by South Africa's apartheid regime, which was determined to block the Angolan people from realizing their hard- fought independence from Portugal.

The apartheid army was dealt a decisive military defeat at Cuito Cuanavale in late 1987 and was driven out of Angola. This victory paved the way for the independence of neighboring Namibia. By puncturing once and for all the myth of the white supremacists' invincibility, the outcome at Cuito Cuanavale gave another impulse to the battle against apartheid inside South Africa. In February 1990, the regime of F.W. De Klerk announced the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC). That same month Nelson Mandela triumphantly walked out of the Victor Verster prison in Cape Town, free for the first time in over 27 years.

In his speech at the conference, Mandela referred to his trip to Cuba in July 1991. During that visit, Mandela and Cuban president Fidel Castro appeared on the same platform for the first time, explaining why the struggles being waged by the people of South Africa and Cuba are the best examples for those everywhere seeking to rid the earth of racism and exploitation. (The speeches by Mandela and Castro on that occasion are available in the Pathfinder book How Far We Slaves Have Come! - see ad on page 9.)

Mandela said in his presentation here that his government has extended an open invitation to Castro to visit South Africa.

Some 150 delegates participated in the October 6-8 conference, which was initiated by the South Africa-Cuba Friendship Association. The meeting was part of worldwide activities in defense of Cuba this month, which were called by a 3,000-strong World Meeting in Solidarity with Cuba that took place in Havana in November 1994.

Participants at the meeting came from Angola, Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Delegates from Australia and the United States also participated as observers.

Delegations included leaders of national and local Cuba coalitions, members of parliament, trade unionists, religious figures, and representatives of political parties and student groups. The largest delegation of some 100 from South Africa included representatives of the ANC, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM).

Sergio Corrieri, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), and Angel Dalmau, Cuban ambassador to South Africa, headed a 10-member delegation from Cuba.

In his opening speech, Mandela praised the formation of several friendship associations throughout South Africa. "These groups have emerged from the soil of a genuine popular sense of solidarity with Cuba," he said.

The South African president also pointed to the NUM campaign to raise funds for safety equipment for Cuban miners as an example to be emulated. NUM president Kgalema Motlanthe, who attended the conference, said in an interview that miners volunteered for overtime and donated the extra pay to the campaign to purchase mine lamps and other safety equipment. Motlanthe said the NUM got the idea for this voluntary work from the Cubans.

Mandela condemned pressures by Washington and other imperialist powers on the South African government to curtail relations with Cuba. He announced that Alfred Nzo, South Africa's foreign minister, will visit Cuba. (The full text of the speech is printed above.)

Mandela's address was covered by the Johannesburg Star, the Citizen, and other dailies, and by South African television. It was a significant policy statement since it came after months of a concerted campaign of pressure by the U.S. government.

Aziz Pahad, deputy minister of foreign affairs and an ANC leader, also spoke at the conference during the first plenary session October 7. He said that the head of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa sent a letter to the South African government this summer "raising concern about the invitation to Castro to visit South Africa and the planned opening of the South African embassy in Cuba."

Pahad announced that in the face of Washington's pressures, John Nkadimeng, South African ambassador-elect to Cuba, will arrive in Havana to begin his assignment October 25. He then introduced Nkadimeng, who also addressed the meeting. Pahad said that the South African government is expanding economic relations with Cuba as well.

Trade between the two countries has risen from 0.8 million rand in 1993 to 55 million rand today ($1=3.5 rand), he stated, with the bulk of South African exports being equipment and materials used in Cuba's sugar cane industry. "We are in the process of discussing a more far- reaching trade agreement," he said.

A number of other ANC leaders addressed the delegates, including ANC general secretary Cheryl Carolus and Tokyo Sexwale, premier of the Gauteng province that includes Johannesburg.

Message from Fidel Castro

After Mandela's speech, Cuban ambassador Angel Dalmau read a message to the delegates from Castro.

"Cubans, waging a titanic struggle to save the identity and the independence of the country, justly value the solidarity shown by so many men and women that like you, all over the world, stimulate our present efforts," Castro's message said. "The support that emerges from this act of solidarity confirms once more that there are many people in the world who cannot be misled by the enormous slander campaigns that are constantly waged against Cuba and its present reality."

Castro explained the fiscal and other measures Havana has implemented over the last two years to reverse an economic decline triggered by the end of aid and trade at preferential prices with the former Soviet bloc countries and intensified by the U.S. economic blockade.

"The collapse of the Soviet Union and the East European socialist countries, the end of the Cold War and the upsurge of a unipolar war, far from bringing an improvement in the standard of living of hundreds of millions of human beings in the so-called South, has meant an increase in the heavy load of insecurity, inequality, and poverty that burdens the underdeveloped countries," Castro stated.

"Our present struggle for the preservation of the identity and validity of our homeland, for the continuity of our revolution, and the defense of our socialism and its imperishable conquests, is also the struggle for the poor people of this earth."

"Our enemies have tried to impose upon us all types of blockades and isolations but have been unable to achieve their purpose against Cuba," Castro said. "This conference is proof of that. You may rest assured... that as long as we share the confidence of millions of men and women that, like you in Southern Africa and the world over, have placed in us, we shall do everything possible and even more so as not to fail your hopes."

Conference decisions

After two days of plenary sessions, commissions, and workshops, delegates decided to constitute the conference organizing committee as a sub-regional network of Friends with Cuba in Southern Africa.

The network will encourage the formation of Cuba solidarity committees throughout southern Africa and the strengthening of already existing groups.

The activities delegates resolved to promote include:

Offering to host a tour by Castro in all countries in southern Africa when the Cuban president visits South Africa, which according to ANC leaders will most likely take place early next year;

Demanding that governments in the region call on the Organization of African Unity to declare a day of solidarity with Cuba in the continent;

Lobbying governments in southern Africa to increase trade and other ties with Cuba and to condemn the Helms- Burton bill under debate in U.S. Congress; and

Organizing a Southern African brigade to Cuba next year and friendshipment caravans in the region to collect material aid to be shipped to Cuba via Johannesburg.

For more information on future activities in the region contact the Cuba Solidarity Committee, 1 Leyds St., Braamfontein, Johannesburg; Tel: (27-11) 457-1111.

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