The Secret History of How Cuba Helped End Apartheid in South Africa

Fidel Castro y Nelson Mandela
Fidel Castro y Nelson Mandela.  Foto:

Democracy Now

HAVANA TIMES – As the world focuses on Tuesday’s historic handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, we look back at the pivotal role Cuba played in ending apartheid and why Castro was one of only five world leaders invited to speak at Nelson Mandela’s memorial.

In the words of Mandela, the Cubans destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor … [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa.’

Historian Piero Gleijeses argues that it was Cuba’s victory in Angola in 1988 that forced Pretoria to set Namibia free and helped break the back of apartheid South Africa.

We speak to Gleijeses about his new book, “Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991,” and play archival footage of Mandela meeting Fidel Castro in Cuba.



21 thoughts on “The Secret History of How Cuba Helped End Apartheid in South Africa

  • This is what Afro Cubans need to remember! All of the other crap makes no difference Unless and until ALL people are free Noone is free I was there that day I will never forget it In Matanzas where we live

  • Communism, as written by Karl Marx, and the second international, defines a true communist society cannot operate through class control, it is classless, so technically the ussr and china etc were not communist they were weird mixes of fascism and communism and socialism etc labelled commonly as Stalinism or Maoism or whatever, and referred to their states as socialist. I know this stuff and I’m barely 16 you numbskull. Communism cannot have any class divide that us the point of communism, whereas socialism or fascism or nazism can. Learn your stuff before you comment on politics.

  • Oh I get the point you are attempting to make. The problem is your point is a very weak one.

    All these counties you list are run by Communist parties. Whenever communist parties gain power they implement the same totalitarian system. You like to pretend your imaginary communist system, which has never existed, is the true communism, while the real life examples are not real communism.

    The states that actually existed are the real communism. The one in your wooly head is the fake one. Get it?

    Do they not have psychiatrists where you live who can help you deal with your delusions?

  • I get the distinct feeling that I’ll be waiting a LONG time for a reply from A South African

  • In your post above, you seem to have neglected inclusion of the effects of the 50+ year old War On The People Of Cuba that has had some of the desired effects that you listed.
    It is intellectually dishonest to do so.
    Further there has never been a socialist economy in the history of the world and were you an educated person , you’d know that.
    Secondly , socialism is an economic form . You cannot have a socialist government .
    You can have a democratic government or a totalitarian government but not a socialist government anymore than you can have a capitalist government .
    Lastly, it is very revealing that, were you poor, you would choose to raise your family, your children in SA on US$2.00 or less per day and without available healthcare, adequate shelter, sanitation, educational opportunities without adequate nutrition, amid a raging HIV epidemic, rampant rape and crime with no serious chance for rising up out of that dire poverty just so you could spend five meaningless minutes in a voting booth.
    I seriously hope you were vasected at a very early age .
    Passing your genes or thinking on would be a tragedy for any of your progeny .

  • Cuban elections, the choice of candidates are just as controlled by the power elite in Cuba as they are in the U.S.oligarchy .
    For the umpteenth time, China, Cuba, Cambodia North Korea and the defunct Soviet Union were not communist .
    If you persist in saying that they were , you’ll need to redefine communism for those of us who know what it is and more importantly what it isn’t and it certainly was no country that has yet existed .
    No economy run from the top down in a dictatorial manner can accurately be described as communist.
    You do not know what you are talking about.
    Do they not have universities in Canada where they teach such things ?

  • Your post can be filed under bullshit since again , you fail to mention that the cause of most of the problems in Cuba that involve the economy can be laid at the door of the 50+ year War On The People Of Cuba .
    Secondly, since socialism necessarily involves a bottom-up worker controlled democratic workforce, socialism has never existed in the history of the world and you should certainly know this by now.
    Have you checked Cuba’s status on the World Health Organization’s Human Development Index as I asked you to do ?
    As for Cubans leaving for greener pastures elsewhere,
    guess what ? people in countries that are poor and things are tough are always leaving their homelands for richer countries like all those political prisoners who were released from Cuban prisons, went to Spain and who now are trying to get back to Cuba because they cannot survive in that crippled capitalist economy.
    Add to an already poor country an economic war waged upon it by the U.S. and you should have far more people leaving by any means including those only available to Cubans under the “wet foot- dry foot ” clause of the CAA.
    Some 50,000 Cubans (I believe the number is accurate) leave for the U.S every year out of a population of some 11 million.
    Some 75,000 Jamaicans come to the U.S every year out of a population of around 3 million .
    Jamaicans are free to prosper under capitalism , have the vote , have rejected socialism .
    Were the same percentage of Cubans as Jamaicans to leave, the numbers would be something like 175,000 per year.

  • My country Canada suffers under what you describe (absurdly) as “feral capitalism” and the oppression of a totalitarian liberal democracy. Yet somehow we managed to build a very wealthy and peaceful country with full protection of human rights and freedoms. Oh, and we have a single payer public healthcare system for all citizens.

    You are quite right to point out the comparison between the Cuban income and the South African income is not a simple matter of dollars. The subsidies, ration book, & dual currency system in Cuba make economic comparisons very complicated. But do keep in mind, the Cuban healthcare system is NOT FREE. Every Cuban pays for it by virtue of their very low salaries. Same thing goes for the NOT FREE educational system in Cuba. Also, one must take into account that it is impossible to live on the $20 per month salary and ration book alone, and that every Cuban must find a way to make up the difference by barter, driving a taxi, black-market, theft or prostitution.

    It’s important to realize, as Mandela did, that a nation cannot build utopia over night. Such delusions always lead to the totalitarian Marxist nightmare that befell the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, Cambodia and all the other inhuman Communist dictatorships.

    You can sneer at the the practice of voting every 4 years or so as false democracy. That’s still a lot better than Cuba, where the people haven’t had a free democratic election in six decades and the same clique has ruled for the last 54 years.

  • You are so one dimensional in your “thinking” sir…..somewhat biased maybe

  • 1) Healthcare in Cuba is not free. At more than 95% income tax rate, Cubans pay dearly for their health and educational services.
    2) With a government-estimated 600,000 (More than 1 million unofficial) housing deficit, that means of the nearly 4 million Cuban households, every one out of 4 Cubans is living under cramped, overcrowded or inadequate housing conditions. The recent late fall rainstorms in Havana revealed the precariousness of existing Cuban housing with more than 267 collapses in Havana alone
    3) Talk to Cubans about food in Cuba. Everyone knows the old joke: What are the three worst things about the Revolution? Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
    4) As a police state, Cuba reports low crime rates. However, there is a valid discussion regarding the trade of civil liberties for safer streets.
    Socialists always purport to have a better way to entice the poor with the promise that they can improve their lives by giving government more control of their lives. To date, socialists governments have never made good on that promise and instead, like in Cuba, have simply devolved society to make everyone poor. I would choose South Africa over Cuba. If you went to the Cuban embassy in Johannesburg and gave away immigration visas to South Africans and did the same thing in Havana for Cubans, where do you think the line would be longer? I will make it simple for you. There would be more Cubans wanting to leave Cuba than South Africans wanting to leave South Africa. By a huge margin.

  • A South African,
    Would you please comment on my post in reply to Griffin above ?
    Specifically, how can things change for the majority poor without getting rid of feral capitalism ?
    Thank you .

  • Dumb and dumber.
    In Cuba ALL the people get:
    1) free healthcare while South Africa has the highest levels of HIV infection in the world under their privatized healthcare system
    2) housing at 10% of income-there are no homeless unlike the millions in South African shantytowns with no running water, no electricity and no toilet systems
    3) all Cubans are well nourished as testified to by the high standing of Cuba on the Human Development Index of the World Health Organization which you refuse to look at.
    4) Crime is very low in Cuba compared to SA where rape is epidemic and crime rampant.
    If you choose to lie openly-and lies of omission such as you committed above are still lies – you better do it after I’m dead because I won’t let you get away with it..
    Since you mentioned democracy in your post , how do you feel about democracy in the economy where it woulkd really help the majority of the population living on less than US$2.00 a day .
    The right to vote gained under Mandela gives the black population that five minutes in the voting booth to elect black faces who , in the end, are maintaining the same totalitarian capitalism that has impoverished the majority of the people there .
    As powerful a symbol as Mandela was and still is, he was powerless against the forces of neo-liberal capitalism that still hold the same number of people in poverty as were in poverty under apartheid.
    Would YOU trade adequate housing, adequate health care, adequate nutrition, safe neighborhoods and free and excellent education from day care to graduate school, running water, electricity, for everyone and their children for the right to meaningless vote every few years ?
    You need to think about it.
    Were you poor, would you want your family, your children to live in South Africa or Cuba ?

  • I am a South African who is very proud of the strides made by our rainbow nation!
    Most of us had no input into apartheid, and are working together to rid ourselves of the stigmas and negativities of that dark period in our country’s past.

  • Just finished reading Gleijeses book and it is by far the most authoritative history of the Southern African Cuban effort to support liberation struggles. While some extreme right wing people might quibble about Mandela, this book is based not on gossip like many legends circulating in exile circles but on documents, some revealed for the first time in Washington DC, Pretoria, Russia, Yugoslavia, and Havana and a vast array of interviews with participants and diplomats. To read Kissinger’s description of Fidel Castro was incredible “true revolutionary.” About Mandela, he was a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party, his main mistake? He trusted the West too much and now wealth in South Africa is still in the hands of the white elite and some junior black African partners. By the way, hundred os Cuban doctors are still serving the most destitute of the Soutth Africans, less than 4% of Cuban medical doctors have defected…..

  • “a majority of South Africans living on less than U.S$2.00 a day”

    Let’s see… $2 per day times 30 days = $60 per month. That’s still three times the average Cuban salary of $20 per month.

    Mandela’s wisdom was in realizing that to continue down the Marxist path would open up the gates of violent revolution. Hundreds of thousands of South Africans would be killed, the whites would flee en mass, along with their wealth, and the nation left impoverished.

    The better choice was to achieve an end to apartheid and democratic rights for all South Africans now, and then to build a better life for the people slowly and without violence and oppression.

    I do not see Mandela as a saint, but he was a wise and moral leader who chose peace and reconciliation instead of violence and revenge.

  • I highly recommend reading Pepe Escobar’s ” The Hijacking Of Mandela’s Legacy “available on the net before assigning sainthood to Nelson Mandela .
    As he and other knowledgeable people ( listed in the article ) have written,
    Mandela triumphed over apartheid and was defeated by the existing neoliberal capitalism which today still has a majority of South Africans living on less than U.S$2.00 a day.
    Those who choose to find fault with the poverty in Cuba might want to compare how ALL the people live in Cuba to how that majority poor still live in South Africa under their beloved capitalism and after Mandela came to power .
    Absent an overthrow of that feral capitalism, there really was no change in the lives of poverty led by the majority in South Africa.
    I’d call it a non-revolution.

  • De Klerk moved quickly to release Mandela, lift the ban on the ANC and negotiate an end to Apartheid. If Mandela gets well deserve credit for his role, then De Klerk deserves credit too. His predecessor, Pik Botha was hard line in his defence of Apartheid and refusal to negotiate with the ANC. He deserves condemnation, not De Klerk.

  • While the US supported De Klerk…

  • These are two very brave men, willing to die for their country and their people’s freedom

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