While the governments of the United States, Britain and Israel provided support to South Africa's arpatheid regime, the Cuban Revolution helped the anti-apartheid forces, sending thousands of volunteers in the 1970s and '80s to help Angolan forces defeat the apartheid regime's war on their country.
On his release from prison, Cuba was one of the first places Mandela visited to thank the Cuban people for their assistence. The article below is abridged from a piece originally published in Green Left Weekly #23 in 1991.
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After three decades of supporting the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa — sometimes with their lives — the Cuban people expressed one of the most heartfelt welcomes they have ever bestowed on a visiting foreign dignitary to Nelson Mandela.
For his part Mandela, heaped unqualified praise on the revolutionary process in Cuba, the Cuban people and their leaders.
Speaking in Havana at the traditional July 26 celebration, the ANC leader told thousands of cheering Cubans that their efforts, culminating in the unprecedented defeat of South African regular troops in Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, in 1988 had marked a historic turning point for southern Africa, constituting a victory for Africa as a whole.
“That impressive defeat of the racist army ... gave Angola the possibility of enjoying peace and consolidating its sovereignty,” he said.
It gave the people of Namibia their independence, demoralised the white racist regime of Pretoria and inspired the anti-apartheid forces inside South Africa, he added.
“Without the defeat inflicted at Cuito Cuanavale our organisations never would have been legalised,” Mandela said.
Fidel Castro observed that Mandela's remarks constituted “the greatest and most profound tribute ever paid to our internationalist combatants”.
“The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa,” he insisted. “The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”
Mandela stressed the uniqueness of Cuba's no-strings-attached aid. “What other country,” he asked, “can show as much selflessness as Cuba has in its relations with the African continent? How many countries in the world have benefited from the assistance of Cuban health workers and educators? What country has ever asked for Cuban assistance and been denied it? How many countries threatened by imperialism or struggling for their national liberation have been able to count on the help and support of Cuba?”
From its earliest days the Cuban revolution “has been a source of inspiration for all freedom loving people,”, he went on. “We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist orchestrated campaign organised to destroy the impressive gains made in the Cuban revolution.”