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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 18, No. 19, 31 October 2017

In this Issue:

Red Alert

Commemorating the first anniversary of Fidel Castro`s death; Fidel, the Granma and Robben Island

By Cde Blade Nzimande


Next month, November 2017, marks the first anniversary since Comrade Fidel Castro died on 25 November 2016. As the SACP said in its statement released on 26 November 2016 after receiving the sad news of the death of the former President of Cuba, historic leader and Commander of the Cuban Revolution, Cde Fidel belonged to the rarest breed of finest revolutionaries. Fidel made an invaluable contribution in the struggle for the emancipation of humanity. Human history will be incomplete without the recognition of his colossal contribution in the struggle for freedom, for a world free from exploitation of one person, group, class, or country by another. The good leadership example set by Fidel in the struggle for universal emancipation of humanity from exploitation and oppression is monumental.

The revolutionary life of Fidel Castro

As the SACP we wish to express our gratitude in having been asked to present this lecture on Fidel a year after his passing away. Fidel was born in Biran, Mayari, Cuba. Fidel was born in a well off family. Therefore he is one of the best personifications of class suicide. He hated inequality and poverty precisely because of his background. He knew what poor people were going through. He also knew that Cuban independence existed in name only, as Cuba was made a backyard of the ruling class in the United States collaborating with the domestic, thoroughly compradorial bourgeoisie. That is why among other things he joined the progressive student movement when he reached university.

Many Communists, like Fidel, understood that the struggle for socialism is not an abstract struggle, different from the lived experiences of ordinary people. It was through the struggle against dictatorships in Cuba, the struggle for national sovereignty that shaped Fidelís socialist outlook. It was this socialist outlook that in turn shaped his revolutionary approach to the burning national tasks facing the struggle in Cuba. Fidel was brave and had endless optimism about the struggle, sometimes pushing immediate actions that seemed impossible. For 82 young rebels to be cramped into such a small boat, that is the Granma, on 26 July 1953, to launch an attack on the Moncada military garrison hoping to lead a popular uprising against Batista, illustrates this point.

In the late 1990s I was amongst the comrades who accompanied Fidel to Robben Island. Given Fidelís bravery I was somehow surprised by his shock on how small our former President Nelson Mandelaís cell was. He wondered loudly how a tall person like Mandela could fit in such a small cell. Perhaps just like others wondered how Fidel and the other rebels fitted in the Granma. Maybe there is poetic connection between the Granma and Mandelaís cell, symbolising preparedness of revolutionaries to face whatever conditions. This determination is of course captured in Fidelís historic speech, entitled "History will absolve me", which reflects his optimism and determination to succeed even under the most adverse of conditions.

When Madiba and Fidel met again in September 2001 in Madibaís house at Houghton in Johannesburg, I remember very well Comrade Fidel asking Madiba this same question. I could see the sense of shock when looking into that cell, but I was at the same time sensing some relief on his part that because of, amongst others, the victory of the Cuban and Angolan forces in Cuito Cuanavale, Robben Island was no longer a prison but a museum symbolising the victory of progressive forces over the forces of evil!

I was truly honoured for Comrade Madiba to invite me to the September 2001 meeting. This was a private meeting between Madiba and Fidel at his Houghton home. Fidel had come to South Africa to attend an international meeting. On inviting me over the phone, Madiba joked that he was not feeling safe to meet a leading Cuban Communist on his own, so I better join him so that in case of danger his own fellow Communist could protect him. Were this true I do not know how I was going to do that because I noticed that day that both these tall men were of the same height! Where would I have fitted in that equation!? But on arriving at Madibaís house he changed the story and said to me and Fidel that he invited me because he wanted to show Fidel that it was not only Cuba that had Communists but South Africa too! I really enjoyed that conversation between these two giants which lasted for over an hour.

Much as Fidel was part of a collective, it was his vision and courage that also inspired his fellow commanders in the ultimate triumph of the Cuban Revolution. What we can learn from this is that defending oneís national sovereignty is a crucial weapon in the struggle for national liberation and reconstruction and development of oneís country. Democratic national sovereignty is an indispensible weapon in the struggle against imperialism and its domestic collaborators. This was one of Fidelís enduring legacies.

It was Fidelís correct understanding of national sovereignty that motivated Fidelís internationalism and the role played by Cuba under his leadership in solidarity with the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. Therefore the struggle for the right to national self-determination and national sovereignty need not be a narrow nationalistic struggle. It is a crucial component in forging international solidarity. It is only truly sovereign nations that can enter into enduring and principled internationalist solidarity. That is why the first attack of imperialism against weaker and developing countries is against their national sovereignty.

Our international solidarity

The SACP expresses its message of solidarity with the Cuban people in the face of the continuing imperialist offensive by the United States as now led by Donald Trump. We recall the more than 600 assassination attempts at Fidelís life by the imperialist United States. We do so with an overwhelming joy for his survival from each and every one of those deadly assassination attempts. It was after surviving all these and most probably other attempts that Fidel died at an old age of 90. While his contribution as an activist, soldier and leader of the Cuban Revolution is monumental, Fidel worked within the principles of class, national and international struggles and collective leadership. It is therefore very important to express our sincere gratitude for that outstanding role and how it benefitted many struggles in our continent.

I want to express our appreciation to the Cuban people for staying the course. It is now over half a century since the success of the Cuban Revolution on 1 January 1959. Relentless imperialist aggression mainly from the United States has failed to impose regime change in Cuba. Imperialist machinations have been failing for over half a century to destroy Cuban peopleís determination to pursue a development path of their democratic choice, socialism.

The determination of the Cuban people and their resilience made Trumpís predecessor, Barack Obama, to realise that, as he said, it was foolish to do one and the same thing over and over again and hope to achieve different outcomes. Obama did not discard the United States regime change agenda in Cuba. What he did was to change tactics and accept dialogue. Subsequently he relaxed some, and therefore not all of the United Statesí draconian measures against Cuba.

When the normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States was announced, the SACP welcomed this development but also condemned the United States for maintaining its economic blockade against Cuba. I want to make use of this opportunity to reiterate our Partyís condemnation of both the old and new measures of economic blockade against Cuba by the United States. I also want to take this opportunity to reiterate our Partyís call to the United States to lift, unconditionally, the entire economic blockade against Cuba. In the same vein, the United States must evacuate Guantanamo Bay, a part of the Cuban territory. The United States must leave Guantanamo Bay in the good hands of the Cuba. The United States has turned Guantanamo Bay into a detention camp to commit human rights violations, including some of the worst forms of atrocities that human society has ever come across.

Taking our cue from Fidel, we must deepen our international solidarity with the people of Cuba. In order for all of humanity to realise freedom we must intensify revolutionary solidarity with each other and strengthen our struggle against foreign as well as other forms of dictatorships.

As Southern Africans we are saying thank you to Fidel and the Cuban people as a whole for defeating military attack by the apartheid regime on the people of Angola. The defeat of the racist regime of South Africa in Angola by Cuba under the leadership of Fidel paved the way for the liberation of the whole of Southern Africa, including our democratic transition in South Africa. Thousands of Cubans gave their lives to defeat the racist regime of apartheid South Africa in Angola.

To the Cuban people we say, we are aware that when you left Angola after the historic victory you did not demand either gold or diamonds, and you did not take anything whatsoever but you left only with the corpses of your fallen combatants. We have many of their names inscribed here at the Freedom Park. We will forever be indebted to you for the march to liberation in our region and country, the march that you left behind for us to defend, advance and deepen. You left us behind in order to defend our national sovereignty and not sell it to the highest bidder.

The internationalism and contribution by the Cuban people and Revolution in our liberation struggle in South Africa, Southern Africa and the African continent is unparalleled in many instances. Whether one talks about the training of health and other professionals, engineers and technicians, or solidarity interventions to deal with the breakout of contagious diseases such as Ebola, Cubaís record is outstanding in Africa and other parts of the world. Meanwhile, Western imperialist states that have exploited and under-developed our continent, and by these means accumulated massive resources, continue to create serious problems.

Why the offensive against Cuba?

Cuba is a threat to imperialism not because of its size, geographical location or population, but because of its impressive achievements. What constituted the threat to imperialism is the very success of the Cuban Revolution. Another enduring achievement of Fidel is his success in uniting the Communist Party of Cuba, its members and leaders, thus laying the basis for uniting the Cuban people. This is a lesson as South Africa we need to learn from Cuba, that unless we unite our Alliance and movement our revolution is liable to be rolled. When I attended Fidelís funeral in Santiago de Cuba I was struck by the overwhelming unity of the Cuban people.
But this is not unity based on repression as Cuban detractors always claim. It is unity based on the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, especially in the fields of education and health.

Cuba is among very few countries in the world that have wiped out illiteracy, thus laying the foundation for a highly educated population. Its achievements on education are being shared by students from the rest of the world studying in Cuba. Cuba has opened its universities for students from Latin America and the African continent, and even some from the United States. South Africa itself was and continues to be a beneficiary of Cuban education. Under Fidelís leadership, and especially during the apartheid era, many exiled South Africans studied in Cuba. Currently we have thousands of South African students studying in Cuba. The single largest component of South African students in Cuba is being trained as medical practitioners.

Cuba has phenomenal achievements in health. Many of its positive health indicators are far better than the United States and other developed countries. Cuba has one of the worldís most advanced centres of genetic engineering and biotechnology. It has developed medicines and registered patents including in the United States. Cubaís international solidarity includes thousands of medical professionals who serve in other countries, including in South Africa.

There are a number of other notable achievements by Cuba that should serve as an example to other countries. Were it not for the economic blockade imposed by the United States, Cuba would be a relatively well developed and more prosperous island. It is not socialism that is pushing Cuba down. Socialism is pushing Cuba up! It is imperialism that is pressing Cuba down!

What lessons can we learn from Fidel and Cuba?

Our country has made notable achievements under the leadership of our movement since our April 1994 democratic breakthrough. We built millions of houses allocated free of charge to eligible working class and poor households. We massively expanded electrification and access to education at all levels. There are many other important achievements that made a big difference in the quality of life of our people.

However, we are facing serious challenges underpinned by persisting colonial and apartheid legacy that is rooted in our economy and worsened by capitalist crisis. These challenges include inequality, unemployment, poverty, widespread corruption and social insecurity in our communities. Even if we have not reached socialist construction like Cuba there are many lessons we can learn from Cuba. The lessons include the necessity to unite the motive forces of our revolution in driving the second, more radical phase, of our democratic transition.

Another lesson is the need to fight incessantly against all forces and tendencies that want to undermine our democracy and its further development. These tendencies include the phenomena of state capture and factionalism. We cannot blame imperialism if we ourselves open the door to it by disuniting and factionalising our movement. Often imperialism precisely exploits disunity amongst revolutionary forces. It is important to close ranks and build principled unity.

Fidelís definition of revolution remains a source of inspiration to us as South African Communists. This is what Fidel said in defining a revolution, which is an inscription at the place of internment of his remains in Santiago de Cuba:

Revolution means to have a sense of history; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others like human beings; it is achieving emancipation by ourselves and through our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces from within and without the social and national milieu; it is defending the values in which we believe at the cost of any sacrifice; it is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism; it is fighting with courage, intelligence and realism; it is never lying or violating ethical principles; it is a profound conviction that there is no power in the world that can crush the power of truth and ideas. Revolution means unity; it is independence, it is fighting for our dreams of justice... and for the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism.

We agree. In the true South African culture we say: "Siyavuma!"

Long live the revolutionary legacy of Cde Fidel Castro, long live!

Long live the internationalism of Cde Fidel Castro, long live!

* Cde Dr Blade Nzimande is SACP General Secretary

Vietnam`s increasing role in Asia-Pacific

Vietnam Focus

​Vietnam will be hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum next month. The summit will involve a series of meetings from 5-11 November 2017 in the city of Da Nang. Delegates representing 21 economies, including major economies such as the United States, the world`s largest national economy, China, the world`s second largest national economy, Japan and Russia will take part in the forum. Other Asia-Pacific economies include Australia, Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, The Philippines and South Korea.

The hosting of this economic development and co-operation summit by Vietnam points to the increasing importance of the role played by Vietnam`s political economy in the Asia-Pacific global region. This is the second Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum to be hosted by Vietnam since it became the full member of the 28-year-old biggest regional economic group in November 1998.

The first Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum to be hosted by Vietnam was in 2006. This was preceded by the country assuming the role of the Chief Secretariat of the economic group from 2005-2006. Next month`s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum will look at strategies to promote sustainable development, innovation, inclusive growth, among other objectives of the meeting.

Vietnam achieved a gross domestic product or economic growth of 6.2 percent in 2016 and has the same or greater outlook for 2017. With a market position of over 90 million people, Vietnam is also very important for African economies. The country had more than R325-billion committed to it in 2016 in the form of foreign investment in manufacturing, food processing, electricity generation and mining. This represented a 45 percent increase compared to 2015. In addition, Vietnam is expanding production in sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and construction.

Countries such as South Africa should be advancing national production development and diversification to radically reduce persisting high levels of unemployment. There could be important lessons to learn from Vietnam, including from its robust shipbuilding industry and the ocean economy.

Bilateral relations and co-operation between South Africa and Vietnam recently included, that is, in 2010, the establishment of the Vietnam-South Africa Business Council. It is crucial for working class organisations such as the South African Communist Party (SACP) to deepen their relations with Vietnam`s governing party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and build and deepen ties between the two countries` labour movements as well as improve people-to-people contact.

South Africa and Vietnam share important historical similarities, including the struggle against imperialist domination. This common history should be modernised through increased economic co-operation, investment and sustainable development.

Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class