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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

SA in solidarity with Cuba

President Nelson Mandela's address at the opening of the Southern African Cuba Solidarity Conference in Johannesburg in October

We have come together as Southern Africans to acknowledge a history of struggle and the legends 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 fulfilment: 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 peruse 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 anti-colonial and anti-apartheid 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 friend-ship 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. There are now several Cuba Friendship Associations throughout our country, from Pictersburg 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.

I have heard, with a sense of real emotion and pride, of how poorly paid mineworkers 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. These workers on South African mines come from several countries in our region.

We therefore greet with pride the delegations that have come from all over Southern Africa to attend this Conference. Your presence in our country, for such an occasion, honours us. It underlines the common debt we feel towards Cuab.

Comrades and friends, Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonisers. 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.

The bonds acknowledged through this campaign were, there-fore, 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 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.

Many countries, including some very powerful countries, have called upon us to condemn the suppression of human rights in Cuba. We have reminded them that they have very short memories. That when we were fighting apartheid, againstracial oppression, the same countries were supporting the apartheid regime.

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.

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.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.