By Owei Lakemfa
I CAN remember the moment and where I was when news broke that Fidel Castro Ruiz, the international symbol of revolutionary change, had passed away on Friday November 25.
It was itself an historical moment; that the most strident voice of change in an unequal world, a man in whose voice the oppressed across the universe found its most vocal cord, and one of the most consistent leaders in world history, transformed into immortality. Indeed, to serve others is not to die; to live on in the hearts of tens of millions of people, is to live forever.
Another human being of the same DNA; Nelson Mandela who led South Africa to freedom said of the historical significance of the 1959 revolution Fidel led in Cuba “From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has been a source of inspiration for all those who value freedom.”
Indeed, Mandela knew more than most of us, the fundamental role Cuba, under Fidel played in unshackling Africa from the chains of Apartheid, freeing African countries like Zambia, Lesotho, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique from the unceasing bloody attacks of the white supremacists and freeing the continent from colonialism.
In the mid -1970s, African countries like Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, Mozambique and Angola enslaved by Portugal, made a bid for freedom. But the West, United States (US) and Apartheid South Africa had other plans. Having failed to impose anti-people puppets in Guinea Bissau, they decided to do so in Mozambique where they backed the RENAMO against the FRELIMO freedom fighters, and in Angola, backing the Jonas Savimbi UNITA and the Holden Roberto FNLA against the pro- people fighters of the MPLA led by Agostinho Neto.
With Angolan independence scheduled for November 11, 1975, troops of the South African Apartheid regime in ‘Operation Savannah’ those of Zaire, and French and American mercenaries in October invaded the country and were racing to seize the capital, Luanda. It seemed nothing could stop them. The MPLA issued a desperate cry for help which was drowned under diplomatic niceties. But on November 4, Cuba, led by Fidel decided to save the country. It launched ‘Operation Carlota’ named after ‘Black Carlota’ the 1843 leader of a slave rebellion. Fidel explained: “When the invasion of Angola by regular South African troops started 23 October, we could not sit idle. And when the MPLA asked us for help, we offered the necessary aid to prevent Apartheid from making itself comfortable in Angola”
On November 11, the invaders were shocked to find their hitherto smooth drive to Luanda blocked by Cuban troops who had travelled 9,000 kilometres across the Atlantic. Cuba was the only country in the world willing to shed the precious blood of her sons and daughters to save the Angola.
The Cuban fighters, like Fidel, Che Guevera, Camilo Cienfuegos, Celia Sanchez and Haydee Maria never retreated in battle. On November 25, at the Battle of Ebo, the Cubans who were unfamiliar with Africa, put the invaders to flight. Within eight weeks, it had poured 4,000 troops into Angola and for the first time in three centuries, blacks including many from Cuba, militarily, defeated the whites in Southern Africa. The myth of the invincibility of the dreaded South African Defence Forces (SADF) was shattered.
An angry US President Gerald Ford called Fidel an “international outlaw” while his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger worried that “if the Cubans are involved there, Namibia is next and after that South Africa itself.” America, the leader of the ‘Free World’ was afraid Cuba could push to Pretoria and end Apartheid!
In order to change the situation on the ground, President Ford in January 1976, wrote individual African leaders attending an extra ordinary Summit of the African Union instructing them not to recognise the victorious MPLA government in Luanda.
A furious Nigerian Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed said at the Summit: “Rather than join hands with the forces fighting for self-determination and against racism and apartheid, the United States policy makers clearly decided that it was in the best interests of their country to maintain white supremacy and minority regimes in Africa. Africa has come of age. It’s no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power.”
Cuba remained in Angola. Meanwhile, the West and America went about strengthening Apartheid South Africa. In the 1980s, the regime could muster 500,000 people under arms, it was assisted to build nuclear capability and produce sea-to-sea missiles and rocket launchers. With its new military capability, it rampaged African countries like Lesotho and organised coups in Swaziland and Seychelles. In August, 1982, it letter-bombed the anti-Apartheid fighter, Ruth First in Mozambique and assassinated Joe Gqabi, the ANC Representative in Zimbabwe. It invaded Mozambique at will forcing the country under Samora Machel in March 1984 to sign the infamous Nkomathi Accord under which Mozambique agreed to expell the ANC. On October 19, 1986, Machel was killed in a plane crash in South Africa blamed on the Apartheid regime.
In June 1984, Apartheid Prime Minister P.W. Botha made official visits to eight European countries meeting leaders like Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany and Margaret Thatcher of Britain. It declared a state of emergency in 1985 and invaded Angola in 1987 trapping large numbers of Angolan troops in Cuito Cuanvale. Angola again cried to Cuba for help. This time, Fidel decided to end the Apartheid menace once and for all; he poured in more troops, brought in 600 tanks and MIG-23 fighters which changed the aerial combat in favour of Angola. The Cubans pushed the apartheid forces to occupied Namibia. Facing decimation, the racists sued for peace.
The Cuba-Angola-South Africa Peace Accords provided for the withdrawal of Cuban troops in return for Apartheid South Africa undertaking never to invade Angola again, and more importantly, to grant independence to Namibia. The Agreement was signed at the UN headquarters on December 22, 1988. Three months later, South Africa did a follow-up with a peace deal with the Sam Nujoma-led Namibian freedom fighters. On March 21, 1990 Namibia became independent. Twenty days earlier, the racists had taken the irreversible step towards dismantling Apartheid by freeing Nelson Mandela. Mandela acknowledged that: “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.”
In his tribute to the Cubans who laid down their lives to free Africa, Fidel said they made Cuba “the only non-African nation that fought and shed its blood for Africa and against the shameful apartheid regime.” As the mortal remains of Fidel are laid to rest tomorrow Sunday December 4, 2016 in Santiago de Cuba, I say, Commandate, Africa salutes you!