Magazine article New African

Thank You Cuba

Magazine article New African

Thank You Cuba

Article excerpt

"Without your support, we, in Namibia, would probably still be struggling to attain our freedom and independence, from under the yoke of the apartheid regime," says Namibia's founding president, Sam Nujoma, in this exclusive interview with New African. At its 18th independence anniversary on 21 March, Namibia conferred its highest national honour, "The Most Ancient Order of the Welwitschia Mirabilis", on Castro and Cuba for the help they gave them during the independence struggle.

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Q: How did the relationship between the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO), which you led, and Fidel Castro's Cuba start?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A: I first met Commandant Fidel Castro in 1960 during the UN General Assembly session where he spoke for five hours without written notes, and never repeated himself once. The Cuban revolutionaries had always been sympathetic with the African liberation movements. And so we met there--I was a petitioner, pleading with the UN to take up the cause of Namibia and our independence struggle. At the time we were under the rule of apartheid South Africa. I met Castro again in 1961, at the Cuban embassy in Cairo, Egypt. We had a long discussion, and he explained the Cuban Revolution to us and how strong their support of our struggle was.

When Tanzania became independent in 1961, the Cubans opened an embassy in Dar es Salaam and it helped greatly in facilitating the contacts between us and the Cubans. The same thing happened when Zambia became independent in 1964. The Cubans, again, opened an embassy in Lusaka, and we had another venue to cement our relations.

The Cubans were at the heart of the national liberation movements--the MPLA in Angola, FRELIMO in Mozambique, ANC in South Africa, ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, and SWAPO in Namibia. They worked with us from their embassies in Dar es Salaam and Lusaka. Angolas president, Dr Agostinho Neto, had had longer contacts with the Cuban internationalist forces, and when Neto's MPLA faced down the imperialist enemies in Angola who were using surrogate forces from apartheid South Africa and CIA agents supporting the FNLA of Angola, the Cuban internationalist forces came to the rescue of the MPLA.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As far as Namibia is concerned, the struggle started when our Cassinga transit camp in southern Angola was attacked on 4 May 1978. The Cuban forces were already in southern Angola and they, once again, came to our rescue. The camp was bombed by the South Africans who dropped a group of parachutists to finish off the job. They first dropped poisonous gas on the inhabitants of the camp. The gas, dropped from British-made buccaneer jet bombers, caused everybody to faint. The gas destroyed the oxygen in the air, so the people couldn't breathe. Everyone collapsed, giving the South African parachutists the freedom to maim and kill. And they killed more than 1,000 of our people that day.

The Cuban troops were at Shamutete, south of Cassinga, and they came to rescue our people in the camp. We had to move our survivors quickly out of the camp, so we asked the Cubans to take some of them--the young and wounded--to Cuba for medical treatment. And they took hundreds of our children to Cuba, to the Island of Youth, where we established two secondary schools named after Hendrik Witbooi and Hosea Kutako. In the end, over 2,000 of our youth were trained on that island. Some of them are now ministers, technicians and army officers. The credit for all this, of course, goes to President Agostinho Neto.

Q: So, why did Cuba intervene in Africa?

A: Fidel Castro is an extraordinary revolutionary of our time. Of course, the Cuban revolution took place in the Caribbean, far away from Africa; but Castro recognised the fact that many Cuban citizens had African origins. Their ancestors were shipped as slaves to the Americas. They fought together with the Cuban former slaves to liberate their country, and so the Cuban leadership and the people felt they were part and parcel of the people who were still under colonial domination in Africa. …

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