South Africans demand US ends Cuba blockade
By Norm Dixon
JOHANNESBURG — Pickets were held in several South African cities on July 26 to demand that the United States government end its blockade of Cuba. Over a hundred people braved a bitterly cold day in Johannesburg to sing, chant and dance their solidarity with the Cuban revolution. Passers-by eagerly grabbed photocopied posters of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, many joined the picket. Minibus taxis tooted their support as they drove down busy Commissioner Street. Large Cuban flags and South African Communist Party banners were prominent.
The pickets, organised by the South Africa-Cuba Friendship Association, were held amidst controversy in the big business press over remarks made by Justice Minister Dullah Omar in which he called for diplomatic pressure to be applied to the US to force the lifting of economic blockade. Omar said that South African government would support demands for the lifting of the blockade. Such support would help repay the debt of solidarity to Cuba for its support for the South African liberation movement.
The National Party and the Democratic Party worked themselves up into a fit of anti-communist hysteria. Omar's remarks put South Africa "on the wrong side of the international community and completely contradict our efforts to engage in the Western international orbit", said a delirious DP leader Tony Leon.
Cuban charge d'affaires Marcos Costa Rodrigues in Pretoria said his government welcomed South Africa's support for the lifting of the criminal blockade of Cuba.
SACP leader Jeremy Cronin addressed the spirited demonstration. "The Democratic Party has criticised Dullah Omar for supporting the Cuban people and criticising the United States blockade of Cuba. Tony Leon asks where was this policy developed? Tony Leon we have news for you. The foreign policy of this country is determined not in some committee in Cape Town, it is determined in the streets and struggles of South Africa. The international policy of South Africa was determined on the battle fields of Cuito Cuanavale where the Cuban troops defeated Magnus Malan's racist forces in southern Angola. That's where our foreign policy was determined. We in South Africa are determined to ensure that the solidarity the Cuban people have given us will be returned to the best of our ability."
Cronin told Green Left Weekly pickets were also being held in Kimberley, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Pietersburg. He said an added reason for holding these pickets was highlight the need for international solidarity actions as part of South African politics.
He said that South Africa and Cuba had established diplomatic relations and they were exploring possibilities for trade. "We are being a little careful about bragging about those for the obvious reason that the US always steps in. We've had one experience already with a project where enormous pressure has been put on the German co-partner of a South African stainless steel operation that would have imported Cuban nickel." Cronin said deals involving sugar and tourism were also the cards. Cuba has also offered to send "substantial numbers" of doctors to South Africa.
While "not taking anything for granted" Cronin told Green Left Weekly he expects South Africa's UN delegate to vote against the US blockade of Cuba when it is debated in September.
The South Africa people have "an enormously sympathetic and warm" attitude to Cuba, Cronin said. That was proven by the reception Fidel Castro received when he attended Nelson Mandela's inauguration on May 10. "In townships people know that Cuba stood by us at a time of need. They want South Africa to return that support."