Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Great Historical Figure Has Gone to Sleep
November 30, 2016
Opinion & Analysis, Nzenza Sekai
Zimbabwe Herald

When Fidel Castro died last week, my cousin Reuben wiped his misty eyes. I think he was crying. But I am not sure. Then he called our cousin Sam, the one who is married to Lita, a Cuban woman and said, “Hey Bro, the old revolutionary has left us.”They talked for a while and Reuben said on Saturday they would all get together at a bar in the city, smoke cigars and (even though they both do not smoke) remember a man they said helped liberate some African countries from colonialism.

Then on Sunday afternoon, Sam and Lita came over for a visit with the children. They were sad about Fidel’s death.

Lita offered to cook a Spanish dish called paella for all of us.

She boiled plenty of rice in a cooker, cut purple onion separately and fried them with plenty of garlic. Then she grilled two packets of sausages and pieces of chicken thighs.

She fried tomatoes and added paprika, black pepper, green peas and parsley before mixing everything together in a big pot. She placed the paella on a platter for us to serve ourselves.

When invited to the table, Piri picked only the sausages and chicken from the platter, leaving the rice.

Lita, in broken English, because she speaks mainly Spanish, smiled and gently told Piri to take the rice as well. Piri said next time Lita should learn to cook more meat and serve it separately from the rice when serving in-laws like us. Lita smiled gently. She has only been in this country for a few months.

On television, there was a documentary on Fidel Castro’s life. It was a perfect time for us all to relax and follow the history of Fidel. Outside it was raining, nonstop. Mubvumbi chaiwo.

“Who is Fidel Castro and why should we feel so strongly about a man who does not look black at all?” Piri asked, grabbing a beer from the cooler box that Sam had brought into the room.

With a tone of impatience, Reuben said, “Sis, we must learn to understand that in this world we are all related. It does not matter whether you are black or white.”

“Now you sound like a Michael Jackson song,” said Sam, increasing the volume as we sat to watch the remarkable life of Fidel Castro.

An African-looking woman reporter with a very strong British accent presented the story.

She said Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in Brian, Oriente Province, Cuba.

He was an illegitimate son of Angel Castro Argiz, a very wealthy farmer and landowner who had fallen in love with his mistress Lina Ruz González.

Fidel was sent to a Jesuit school in Havana and in 1945 he began studying law. During his studies, he became politically conscious of the injustice of the world around him. He was a strong critic of the United States’ involvement in the Caribbean and in Africa.

Castro married Mirta Diay Balart, who came from a wealthy family though both their families did not approve of the marriage.

In September 1949, Fidel and Marta had a son called Fidelito. The couple struggled for money while Fidel was increasingly getting involved in politics.

Soon after the start of the Cuban revolution in 1953, Fidel Castro led an attack on Moncada Army Barracks and was arrested and put on trial.

Standing in court, Fidel is remembered for saying these famous words: “You can condemn me but it doesn’t matter; history will acquit me.”

After his release from prison, Fidel formed the 26th of July Movement and in January 1959, Fidel Alejandro Castro, through an armed revolution took over power from President Fulgencio Batista.

Fidel started to adopt more communist thinking. By 1965, through his Communist Party, Cuba clearly entered the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States of America.

In 1978, Cuba sent at least 15 000 troops to Ethiopia and helped fight the invasion of Somali troops in Ogaden. But it was in Angola that Fidel Castro gained his popularity and developed what was to be a legacy in Africa.

After Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in April 1974, the country decided to relinquish its colonialist control of Mozambique and Angola. Then there was an immediate power struggle in Angola as three pro-independence movements fought for power.

There was the socialist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola and Holden Roberto’s National Liberation Front of Angola, supported by Zaire and Jonas Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola that was backed by the US and South Africa.

Savimbi had been a collaborator of the racist Portuguese dictatorship. He was known for his ruthlessness to the people.

At that time, apartheid South Africa was illegally occupying Namibia, where they had been in control for 60 years.

South Africa had no resistance in that part of South West Africa or in southern Africa.

Zimbabwe was still Rhodesia, under the colonialist rule of Ian Smith and the liberation war for independence was gaining momentum.

Who would challenge the dominant South Africa, supported well by the US?

In October 1975, South Africa simply invaded Angola with support from the US government, who wanted to economically control that part of Africa.

The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which was likely to lead the new independent Angola was overthrown.

Agostinho Neto, the President of Angola then, appealed to Cuba asking for support to fight the South African army’s invasion.

On November 4, Fidel Castro agreed and a few days later, the world woke up to find that the first Cuban special forces had boarded planes for Angola.

They arrived and launched what was known as Operation Carlota. The stage was set for a fierce war between three groups.

Many Cubans continued to pour into Angola. By the end of 1975, there were as many as 36 000 Cuban troops supported by Soviet military advisers.

Cuban soldiers fought hard and in March 1988, during the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, South Africans were forced to withdraw and admit defeat.

How a poor Caribbean island like Cuba managed to fight South African Defence Forces (SADF), which was backed by the world’s largest superpower at that time remains a remarkable phenomenon.

It was a like the Biblical David and Goliath story.

In Africa, Fidel Castro became a hero for the liberation of Angola.

But such an intervention was not without costs. Cuba lost as many as 2 500 Cuban soldiers in Angola.

In July 1991, after the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela visited Cuba to mark the 38th anniversary of the Cuban revolution.

Mandela thanked Cuba for her role in supporting the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. Mandela said: “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 . . . We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defence of one of us.”

Apart from fighting wars against oppression and racism, Fidel Castro’s Cuba welcomed African people and trained many thousands of doctors, engineers and technicians.

They expected trained and skilled Africans to return home and serve their communities. Among those trained in Cuba were students from post-independent Zimbabwe.

Within Cuba, Fidel Castro’s health system was exceptionally efficient and his educational system was rated to be one of the best in the world.

In sport, Cuban athletes, boxers, basket ballers and baseball players won many Olympic medals, defeating big countries like India, Japan and Brazil.

As a speaker, Fidel Castro was known for making the longest speech of any world leader at the UN General Assembly.

He was also a big figure of the Non Aligned Movement, standing alongside Jawaharlal Nehru, Josef Broz Tito, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah and Sukarno.

Standing more than six feet tall, with a large beard, smoking cigars and always wearing green war-like uniform, Fidel Castro was an imposing figure.

But it would not be right to simply see Fidel as a strong kind supporter of the poor and impoverished. Some people did not like his economic policies and others accused him of dictatorship and authoritarianism.

Many Cubans moved to the US and lived there in exile. When Fidel died last week, some of the exiled Cubans were seen dancing and celebrating in the streets of Miami. But for many in Africa, the Cuban leader has left a heroic legacy.

The documentary ended with some black and white photos of Fidel Castro’s life from his young days to the time when he was looking old, frail and tired.

“We all took a deep breath and I saw Lita wipe a tear. I wondered whether she was crying for Fidel, or was she simply missing home.

“Piri gave her a tissue and with sympathy in her voice she said, “Muhupenyu, hazvina basa kuti tiri ani. Nguva haisi yedu.(It does not matter in life who we are. Time does not belong to us)”.

Fidel Alejandro Castro, former Prime Minister and president of Cuba, a great historical figure, both loved and also hated by the world, has gone to sleep.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.

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