Republic of Cuba President Raul Castro with Republic of South Africa President Jacob Zuma during the days of national mourning for former South African President Nelson Mandela., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Havana. December 13, 2013
Africa and Cuba: An insoluble union of sister peoples
• Raúl pays tribute to Mandela in the funerary chapel, has a friendly meeting with President Zuma and tours Freedom Park
YAIMA PUIG MENESES
PRETORIA, South Africa.— For the Cuban delegation, December 12 was filled with incomparable emotions. The first came early in the morning when President Raúl Castro arrived at the Union Building, the government headquarters in Pretoria, to honor Nelson Mandela.
Raúl and President Zuma had an amicable meeting which lasted for more than two hours.
Four soldiers in gala military uniform guarded the casket placed beneath an arch in the building’s amphitheater. Raúl approached the area solemnly, without haste; facing the casket he halted for a few seconds, slightly inclined his head as a sign of respect and then moved forward to bid farewell to the man who was a close friend of Cuba.
The Cuban President then went to the official residence of South African President Jacob Zuma, with whom he had an amicable meeting lasting more than two hours. They discussed aspects of national events in both countries and those in the two regions, as well as the close bonds of friendship between South Africa and Cuba.
In an official statement to the accredited press, the two leaders described their talks as highly useful and fruitful, while expressing their satisfaction at the way in which relations between the two countries are developing.
President Zuma observed, "We devoted time to talking about Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela, because we see them as our heroes."
He thanked Raúl for his kindness in accompanying the people of South Africa at this moment of mourning. "If Cuba, our old friend, had not been here, we would have felt that someone very special was missing," he affirmed. Zuma also expressed gratitude to the Cuban people and its leadership for the significant role the country played in Africa. The Cuban President said he was pleased to confirm, once again, that relations between Cuba and South Africa are continuing and being consolidated.
"We are blood brothers and sisters, whatever the color of our skin. Cuba is part of Africa, and Africa is part of Cuba and the Caribbean," he stated.
CUBA IN FREEDOM PARK
The day continued to be one of respect and shared history, when the Cuban President moved on to Freedom Park, an impressive site dedicated to those who fought in the struggles for African freedom.
A long spiral walkway leads to the top of the hill where the monument is located. At its entrance, Raúl was received by Regardt Gouws, director of the complex; Mongane Wally Serote, creator of the work; and other directors.
There, in front of the impressive wall on which more than 80,000 names of those who gave up their lives for independence are engraved, personnel from the Cuban embassy and a group of cooperative workers in South Africa were awaiting Raúl. Beside them and in the name of the people of Cuba, he placed a wreath and honored the Cuban and African combatants who died in liberation struggles throughout the African continent.
It is a genuinely moving place. Reading there, carefully engraved on the wall, the names of more than 2,000 Cubans who lost their lives in these lands, brings to mind unforgettable passages of the homeland, passages of honor and glory, but also infinitely sad.
"The monument is a way of emancipating ourselves, of making heard our voice as South Africans. We want everyone who comes to visit this place to feel reflected in the men and women whose names appear here," one of the monumental complex guides, Jane Mufamandi, commented to Raúl. She also explained that for them, one of the most significant aspects of the park is that it is a legacy left by Nelson Mandela, given that he was the person who strongly promoted the idea, achieving its opening during his presidency.
"He wanted us to have a place dedicated to our people, where the heroes and heroines who fought to bring dignity to South Africans, to give a voice to Africa, are represented."
"It is a great work which demonstrates the magnitude of the struggle of this people over centuries," commented Raúl. "In Cuba, we have constructed modest monuments in cemeteries in those municipalities where Cubans who died in African battles lived."
While Raúl signed the monumental complex visitors’ book, Jane Mufamandi stated, "The battle of Cuito Cuanavale is one of the many reasons for which we are always going to honor Cuba." For his part, the President recalled, "We came to have tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers in Cuito Cuanavale, as well as modern aviation, artillery and latest generation tanks."
In a few, heartfelt words he wrote, "It is moving to visit to this site, which preserves for future generations the memory of the victims of colonialism, slavery and apartheid and the just tribute to African and Cuban combatants who gave offered up their lives in the struggle for the liberation of Africa. I pay tribute to the memory of all of them, in the name of the people of Cuba."
Immediately thereafter, he moved to stand before the eternal flame lighted in honor of those who also lost their lives but have not as yet been identified, as the guide explained to him, assuring him that investigations will continue.
Before the flame, he also conversed with Mongane Wally Serote, the monument artist and a man who has visited and admired Cuba on a number of occasions.
Thus concluded President Raúl Castro’s activities on December 12, leaving the unquestionable certainty that the destiny of the two peoples is entwined for ever.
OTHER BILATERAL MEETINGS
In the afternoon, the Cuban President and First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba received in the Cuban ambassador’s residence Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the South African Communist Party and Minister of Higher Education.
Also present were Solly Mapaila, second deputy secretary of the South African Communist Party; and Sibongile Mncwabe, head of the General Secretary’s Office. The President subsequently met with members of the African National Congress (ANC) leadership.
Participating was Baleka Mbete, ANC national coordinator; and Zweli Mkhizie, general treasurer. In both meetings, Raúl was accompanied by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla and Fernández de Cossío, the Cuban ambassador in South Africa.