By Norm Dixon
South Africa's warm ties with Cuba are coming under increasing pressure from Washington as Pretoria makes preparations to open an embassy in Havana. Senior members of the US Congress have issued warnings to South Africa that close relations with Cuba may damage its relations with the US. The new South African government, led by the African National Congress, established diplomatic relations with Cuba on May 11, 1994 — just one day after Nelson Mandela's inauguration as South Africa's first democratically elected president. At that ceremony, Cuban President Fidel Castro was a guest of honour in recognition of Cuba's tireless solidarity, both moral and material, with the struggle against apartheid. An open invitation has been given to Castro to again visit South Africa.
Cuba sent its first ambassador to South Africa late last year. According to an article in the August 4 Weekly Mail and Guardian, the government of national unity is soon to announce the appointment of John Nkadimeng as South Africa's ambassador to Havana. Nkadimeng is a former trade union leader and ANC exile and is currently a central committee member of the South African Communist Party.
In late July, four chairpersons of influential US House of Representatives committees, led by Africa subcommittee chair Ileana Roslehinen, wrote to South Africa's Washington ambassador, Franklin Sonn, protesting about Pretoria's moves to open an embassy in Havana. The letter warned: "the clear message of such a decision would be to tell the American people that South Africa does not share our commitment to liberty, justice and democracy. Such a message could have a significant impact on the Congress's relations with your country."
South Africa's active opposition to the US blockade of Cuba is especially important because of the ANC's and Mandela's support in many capitals of the Third World.
However, US pressure has resulted in some concessions being made by Pretoria. According to the Weekly Mail and Guardian, South Africa has agreed to abide by Washington's ban on arms sales to Cuba. The Department of Foreign Affairs told the newspaper that countries that export arms to Cuba are "ineligible to receive US foreign assistance for a
period of 12 months".
A broad range of influential South Africans have announced their support for the Southern African Conference in Solidarity with Cuba, to be held in Johannesburg on October 6-8. The conference is being organised by South Africa-Cuba Friendship Associations across the country. The conference will be part of the worldwide activities to mark October 10 as the World Day in Solidarity with Cuba.
The conference call has been signed by cabinet ministers Trevor Manuel, Dullah Omar and Kadar Asmal, Gauteng Premier Tokyo Sexwale, ANC deputy general secretary Cheryl Carolus, SACP general secretary Charles Nqakula, Congress of South African Trade Unions' John Gomomo and many senior trade unionists, church leaders and academics.
US pressures South Africa on Cuba policy
By Norm Dixon