Today, Namibia starts three days of mourning in memory of the late Cuban revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, who died a week ago in his native Cuba, oceans away from the shores of our country.
Economically speaking Cuba is a featherweight, but politically and in terms of ideological consciousness, arts, science, self-sufficiency and defiance of imperialism, it is a heavyweight that belies its tiny landmass. Fidel Castro, its fallen revolutionary leader was a towering political giant, and one of a kind.
He survived hundreds – indeed 637 – assassination attempts, to be precise, and navigated his country through the choppy waters of a crippling five-decade long trade and economic embargo instigated by Cuba’s overbearing neighbour North America, a mere 90 miles away, that felt slighted by the fact that Castro overthrew US-supported despot Fulgencio Batista.
Following one of the countless attempts on his life Castro lightly brushed off these attempts, saying had these CIA-funded attempts on his life been an Olympic event he would easily have scooped a gold medal.
Cuba’s ideological stance and defiance of colonialism and racism could be attested in the historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola, when El Comandante sent thousands of Cuban troops to counter the heavily-armed South African forces, who wanted to stop the FAPLA offensive against Jonas Savimbi’s SADF-backed UNITA forces at Jamba.
South African army generals also wanted to overrun Swapo bases in Angola.
But with Castro having taken direct command of the air-led operation at Cuito Cuanavale the tide of the battle turned against the invading South African forces after one of the largest and toughest battles witnessed on African soil at the climax of the Cold War.
In a nutshell, the decisive battle of 1987-1988 and the hammer-blows dealt the SADF forces resulted in Namibian independence, following trilateral talks in December 1988. The negotiations in New York culminated in what became known as the Tripartite Accord between Angola, Cuba and South Africa, which led to the independence of Namibia from South Africa the following year.
After Namibian independence Castro sent Cuban teachers, engineers and medical doctors to help with the reconstruction of Namibia and to this day we still enjoy the care and assistance of Cuban doctors here, thanks to Castro’s immense generosity and foresight.
His sphere of influence was also far-reaching and like in Angola, Namibia and South Africa, he touched lives in so many ways.
In the case of Vietnam, the revolutionary icon was a pioneer in the international movement that supported Vietnam’s struggle for independence and reunification, as well as its national reconstruction and development efforts.
As he was to our foremost political leaders, Hage Geingob, Hifikepunye Pohamba and founding president Sam Nujoma, Castro was a close and loyal friend to the Vietnamese people and many others who, like us, will forever be indebted to him and the Cuban people for their immense sacrifices on behalf of the oppressed and colonised people around the world.
Many people on the African continent will remember Castro as a key ally to African liberation movements, such as Swapo, and as a selfless man who provided teachers, doctors and engineers, so that our underdeveloped societies could attain their inherent potential. Furthermore , the Cuban people have never demanded rewards in the form of diamonds, gold or other valuable assets, but helped without expectation of any material reward and went home with little more than the remains of their comrades and the moral satisfaction that they had sacrificed everything they could to help defeat the apartheid regime.
In the 60s, 70s, and 80s many African liberation movements knew they had an all-weather ally in Castro, who lived by what he preached.
Despite the crippling US embargo, Cuba still has one of the highest rates of literacy, of the best healthcare systems around and Cuban life expectancy is among the highest in the world at 78.4 years.
“They talk about the failure of socialism, but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America?” he defiantly asked. With his passing these questions are again raised sharply.
Castro was also a modest man. At his request there are no streets or monuments named after him in Cuba.
The world rightfully mourns this selfless Cuban revolutionary.
May his indomitable soul rest in eternal peace.