Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution

The world this year rightfully commemorates the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela, who survived nearly 27 years in South African prisons to become the President of his country and to end its apartheid system with grace and humility.[1]

Also should be remembered was Mandel’s “special fondness for Fidel Castro, who had inspired the African National Congress (ANC) radicals with his daring revolution in 1959 [and] Cuba’s intervention in Angola. Mandela and his colleagues saw Cuba as “a dangerous model; a freak victory, but they were fired by the story of how Castro and Che Guevara, with only ten other survivors from their ship the Granma had mustered a guerilla army of 10,000 in eighteen months, and had marched on Havana in January 1959.” For Mandela, “Castro, not the Party, . . . had realized the moment of revolution had come. He would never lose his admiration for Castro.” Mandela’s “chief defiance of the Western World was his championing of the two American bête noirés [persons one especially dislikes], Libya’s Muammar] Qadaffi and Castro.”[2]

That was why only a year-and-a-half after his release from prison, Mandela went to the city of Matanzas in Cuba to give an emotional speech on July 26, 1991, which is Cuba’s national independence day, with Fidel in attendance as shown in the photograph below.

Mandela thanked Fidel and Cuba for helping the ANC to defeat Angolan invaders of South Africa in 1988.  That defeat, Mandela said, “enables me to be here today.”[3] Here are just a few of his other tributes to Cuba that day:[4]

  • “Today this is revolutionary Cuba, internationalist Cuba, the country that has done so much for the peoples of Africa. The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”
  • “From its earliest days the Cuban revolution has itself been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gains made in the Cuban revolution.”
  • “We admire the achievements of the Cuban revolution in the sphere of social welfare. We note the transformation from a country of imposed backwardness to universal literacy. We acknowledge your advances in the fields of health, education, and science.
  • We “are moved by your affirmation of the historical connection to the continent and people of Africa. Your consistent commitment to the systematic eradication of racism is unparalleled.”

In response, Fidel in his three-hour speech without notes called Mandela “one of the most extraordinary symbols of this era” by explaining that “apartheid is capitalism and imperialism in its fascist form.”[5]

Conclusion

In July 1991 I was totally unaware of the Mandela-Fidel connection and of Mandela’s speech in the city of Matanzas. It only was in the first decade of the 21st century that I learned of the existence of that city as a result of going there on three mission trips  to visit its Versalles Redeemer Presbyterian-Reformed Church, which is a partner of my Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian Church. Now I have friends from that city. [6]

I was somewhat surprised to find that Mandela’s speech has no mention of Matanzas as a major port of entry for African slaves to work on sugar plantations, especially in the first half of the 19th century. As a result, it is said, due to the high number of both slaves and, importantly, free Afro-Cubans in Matanzas, the retention of African traditions is especially strong there. Perhaps that is the reason Fidel chose this celebration to be in that city. The city’s San Severiino Museum has an exhibit about Cuba’s slave trade.

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[1] Details about the commemoration are available on the website of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. One of the events is the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on July 17, 2018, which  this year will be given by former U.S. President Barack Obama and will be covered in a future post to this blog.

[2] Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography at 152, 191, 414, 554 (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1999).

[3] Id. at 414.

[4] Speech by Nelson Mandela at the Rally in Cuba (July 26, 1991).

[5] Sampson at 414.

[6]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries: The Cuban Revolution and Religion (Dec. 30, 2011); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba (Jan. 13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation (Jan. 4, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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