From the 15th to 22nd of September 2018, a Parliamentary delegation led by the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) will be in Havana, Cuba to meet with the NA of Cuba, Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the more than 700 medical students from South Africa who are being trained in Cuba.
The visit to Cuba is possibly one of the most important Parliamentary visits undertaken by the 5th Democratic Parliament because it recognizes the role Cuba played in the anti-colonial struggles in Africa, which culminated in the liberation of South Africa.
To the EFF, Cuba is a very important political territory, one which we draw inspiration and important lessons. It is also a political territory which we also learn from dedication, steadfastness and revolutionary internationalism. Even the EFF founding manifesto does state that we are guided by the revolutionary Internationalism and solidarity that define generally politics of the July 26 movement, which led the Cuban Revolutionary struggle. We do so as a commitment to partake in all international struggles that seeks to emancipate people of Africa and the work economically.
South Africa will do well to remember that Cuba played an active and decisive role in the political liberation of South Africa. Cuba should be the most important country to South Africa for historical and present reasons and here is why.
The battle of Cuito Cunavale
The battle of Cuito Cunavale refers to the military confrontation between then apartheid South African Defence Force (SADF) and the Cuban Military Forces in the village of Cuito Cunavale in Angola in 1987/88, (Adam, Heribert, and Kogila Moodley, 1993). While less spoken about in South Africa’s transitional politics, this battle played a decisive role in pushing the apartheid regime to the negotiation table because the battle made them realise that the apartheid military is not unconquerable as they thought. Addressing the 20th Anniversary to commemorate the battle, Ronnie Kasrils acknowledged that SADF withdrawal, independence of Namibia and prospect for South Africa freedom was as a results of the battle of Cuito Cunavale.
The Cubans intended to sustain the military offensive until the liberation of South Africa but the liberation movement was not involved in the real battle. This is noted because if the ANC and MK were in pursuit of an alternative route to South Africa’s liberation. The route of intensified military offensive aided by a formidable army and armaments from Cuba could have been buttressed by intensified mass protests in South Africa until the total capitulation of the apartheid regime. We cannot find ANC involvement in the planning and intensification of Cuito Cunavale at high level command. The ANC-led liberation wanted a negotiated settlement instead of people’s war to seize political and economic power despite formidable military aid and commitment from the Cubans. Instead the ANC capitulated in serious economic issues during the negotiations and transition processes, which would have been different had the transition happened due to the military strength.
When Nelson Mandela was released from Prison, his first visit outside Africa was to Cuba, as a way of showing gratitude towards Cubans contribution to the liberation of South Africa and the continent.In that visit, El Comandante Fidel Castro committed to immediate bilateral assistance of the democratizing South Africa and committed to help with the training of medical doctors.
The 1st intake of student doctors from South Africa was in 1998, and different government departments at national and provincial levels have been sending student doctors to be trained in Cuba. Cuba has mastered the science of healthcare and that is illustrated in its infant mortality rates and life expectancy. Cuba has infant mortality rates that are far below the rates of economically developed nations and life expectancy is far ahead of many countries. Cuba has the world’s highest doctor to population ratio. There is 1 doctor for every 175 people in Cuba, whilst in South Africa, it is 1 doctor for every 4000 people.
South Africa has been given the opportunity to send some average of 1000 medical students every year from poor and rural backgrounds. These are students who would not be accepted to South African Medical Schools because of the exclusionary nature and form of medical training including exorbitant cost in South Africa. The Cuban medical training sphere produces the best holistic doctors, and yet in the recent past, South African medical fraternity and the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) have placed a mechanism that says all the Cuban trained doctors should finish their studies in a South African medical school, despite the fact that there are no spaces available and the manner in which the concluding curriculum is presented is different.
With massive degeneration of South Africa’s healthcare, our country should and can massively derive maximum benefits from Cuba and should maximally use the opportunity granted, something which the EFF recognized and appreciated at its formative state. South Africa should use its strategic relationship with Cuba to invest in the training of medical practitioners in Cuba. Whilst quantitatively and qualitatively expanding South Africa’s capacity to train doctors, out Government should maximally support the training of doctors and health practitioners in Cuba In our founding manifesto, we said this strategic partnership should be expanded to a minimum of 10 000 students sent annually to various countries to attain skills, education and expertise in different, but critical fields.
To date, South Africa has sent more than 3000 students to different medical training universities. Currently, there are 1951 students in different medical schools. Cuba has produced 657 Doctors for South Africa and 712 Doctors are doing their final year in different Medical Schools in South Africa. Unlike the empty promises of economic prosperity by Western Capitalist World who have abused South Africa and force it to adopt neo-liberal policies that have spectacularly failed. Without imposing its will on South Africa and without expecting anything in return, Cuba has been a true revolutionary friend of the people of South Africa in immeasurable ways.
Now, all of these positive developments from and courageous actions of the Cuban people happen against an economic blockage and sanctions from the United States and consequently most part of the economic world. The US, has since 1960 imposed sanctions against Cuba, restricting its trade and economic relations with many countries all over the world. The humanitarian impacts of the blockade have been documented, and it is on record that in 2017 only, Cuba lost US$4 billion (R60 billion) worth of trade due to US economic blockade and sanctions.
The trade embargo, economic blockades and sanctions bring tremendous difficulty to Cuba’s economy, which lead to perennial shortage of machinery and other products that cannot be produced in Cuba. The economic blockade also causes strain to the country’s financial system, which cannot be seamlessly integrated into the otherwise complex global financial architecture, which relies on the US dollar for global monetary exchanges.
Despite all these, the people of Cuba and its leadership are resilient and steadfast in maintaining a socialist path to human development because socialism represents the most superior manifestation of humanity. The progressive peoples of the world have recurrently called for an end to the trade embargo and the United Nations passed several resolutions calling for an end to the trade embargo and sanctions. The resistance always come from the US and Israel, who for senseless ideological reasons, continue to isolate Cuba.
Amidst all of these, we as the people who gained independence from the racist colonial and apartheid oppression owe our revolutionary progressive internationalism and solidarity to the people of Cuba. Our solidarity with the people of Cuba therefore becomes a humanly and revolutionary obligation. The Cubans sacrificed their lives so that we can gain freedom from the nonsensical colonial, apartheid oppression and repression, and there are practical interventions which the South African government should do to benefit the people of Cuba and South Africa.
The immediate intervention should be upgrading of the South African President embassy in Cuba to a Grade 5 embassy. Perhaps parliament should even pass a special resolution or motion to place Cuba in a special category of embassies, for historical and present reasons as no any other country in the world has committed training and transfer of skills in the manner in which Cuba did and continue to do despite sanctions.
Other practical things that South African government should do is to dedicate resources to harnessing and enchaining such bilateral, deploy more students and cadets in different Cuban training institutions on a ratio of 1 guardian per 10 students. Those deployed to Cuba should carry the necessary political consciousness that Cuba is a country under economic sanctions and will lack some of the luxuries associated with many meaningless foreign missions South Africa finances.
Cuba’s dedication to saving lives deserves honour, not through rhetorical commitments, but through resource allocation and oversight on how such resources bring about maximum benefit to the people of Cuba and South Africa. When they conquered against Batista, the revolutionary July 26 Movement proclaimed “Hasta La Victoria Siempre”, May Cuba’s Victories Last Forever! Viva Cuba! Viva Socialist Reconstruction of society.
Floyd Shivambu is the current Chief Whip and the Deputy President of the EFF.