“Cuban internationalist volunteers in tens of thousands came to Africa as soldiers, doctors and in other capacities to fight for the liberation of the entire African continent,” he added.
“The sacrifices that the Cuban people made for Namibia to achieve its independence are too great to quantify, because it is difficult to imagine the SWAPO victory without the friendship of Cuba.”
Ya Toivo, a national hero of Namibia, was one of the founders of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) that led the Namibian struggle for independence from apartheid South Africa from 1960 to 1990. He was imprisoned for 16 years at the infamous Robben Island prison of the racist South African regime. Ten of those years he was incarcerated alongside Nelson Mandela, the future president of South Africa, and other leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Ya Toivo, who attended every session of the event, died June 9, age 92. The spirit and tone of the conference could not have been captured better than by his words and warmth throughout. The depth of appreciation to the Cuban people for the internationalist solidarity extended to the peoples of Africa in their national liberation and anti-imperialist struggles marked every aspect of the event.
The 5th Continental Africa Conference in Solidarity with Cuba was attended by 183 delegates from 17 African countries, Cuba and the United States.
The previous four took place in South Africa (1995), Ghana (1997), Angola (2010), and Ethiopia (2012).
The African countries represented at the 2017 event, in addition to Namibia, included Angola, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa), Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), South Africa, Tanzania, Western Sahara, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The conference also received a message of solidarity from the African Union, sent by its chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat of Chad.
Under the banner “Intensifying Solidarity with Cuba and Continuing the Legacy of Fidel and Che,” the gathering was called by the Namibia-Cuba Friendship Association and the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).
Namibian President Hage Geingob officially opened the event paraphrasing the words of Cuban national hero José Martí: “In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world who are going to fight together must rush to know each other,” adding that “in our time of crisis Cuba rushed to know us.”
Sam Nujoma, internationally known leader of the independence struggle and first president of Namibia, joined the presidium for the closing session of the conference. Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila addressed the session.
Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who also serves as Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, took part in every session. Activities included not only cultural events but a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at Heroes Acre, where dozens of those who devoted their lives to the independence struggle are buried, and a visit to Independence Memorial Museum.
Nandi-Ndaitwah personally led the tours of both sites, explaining important aspects of Namibia’s history and the cultures of its people, and describing the lives and contributions of those memorialized at Heroes Acre.
Cuban Ambassador to Namibia Giraldo Mazola headed the Cuban delegation, which included Víctor Dreke, president of the Cuba-Africa Friendship Association. Dreke, who is known among anti-imperialist fighters throughout Africa by his Swahili nom-de-guerre Moja, was second in command to Che Guevara in the column that aided anti-imperialist forces in the Congo in 1965. He headed Cuba’s internationalist mission in Guinea-Bissau in 1966-68, fighting alongside the national liberation forces there led by Amilcar Cabral.
The ICAP delegation was headed by its president Fernando González, a Hero of the Republic of Cuba and one of the Cuban Five, who also served in Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola. The ICAP president’s remarks at a State House dinner for conference participants hosted by President Geingob were one of the highlights of the conference. (See accompanying article on page 6.)
José Prieto, another veteran of Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola, who is responsible for ICAP’s work in Africa, gave delegates a brief summary of the history of the Cuban Revolution’s solidarity with the peoples of Africa during the opening plenary session.
Prieto was one of the Cuban soldiers stationed 25 miles from the Namibian refugee camp in Cassinga in 1978 when it was attacked by South African planes and paratroopers, who massacred some 600 Namibians, mostly women and children. He was among the Angolan and Cuban volunteers who fought their way to the camp to help repel the attack and treat the injured. Sixteen Cuban soldiers gave their lives in that battle and 78 were wounded.
The response of the Cuban leadership to the Cassinga massacre — one of the most infamous episodes during the Namibian struggle against the apartheid regime — is also known throughout Africa. Hundreds of the orphans and other surviving children of Cassinga were flown to Cuba where schools staffed by Namibian and Cuban teachers were established for them on the Isle of Youth. Many went on to study in Cuba for years, graduating from Cuban universities and today shoulder leadership responsibilities in all arenas of Namibian society.
Numerous survivors of the Cassinga massacre educated in Cuba were among the Namibian delegates participating in the solidarity conference.
Impact of Cuba’s solidarity
“Solidarity is not giving what you have in abundance,” Fernando González told the conference. “It means sharing whatever you have, even though it might not be much. That’s the difference between solidarity and charity.”
Remarks made by speaker after speaker during plenary sessions as well as two working commissions revealed the profound impact that revolutionary solidarity of the Cuban people has had on the peoples of Africa.
Delegates worked throughout the conference to hammer out plans for actions to strengthen the solidarity movement with the Cuban Revolution. The discussion was far ranging.
Speaking to the entire gathering, Angolan General Kundi Paihama, former minister of defense and today governor of Angola’s Cunene province, thanked conference organizers for the opportunity to participate. “Solidarity is a moral duty to all on the African continent,” he remarked. “Cuban blood has been spilled here. That is the truth — the role of Cuba was and is unforgettable.”
Referring to the campaign waged by pro-imperialist forces in Africa and around the world who seek to discredit Cuba’s historic contributions to the African freedom struggle, Paihama added, “The accusations against Cuba are not true. Against the facts there is no argument.”
Zimbabwean Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgar Mbwembwe reminded delegates, to applause, of the decisive role played by Cuban medical personnel in confronting the Ebola crisis in western Africa in 2014. “Cuba needs our solidarity now more than ever,” he added.
Chris Matlhako, general secretary of South Africa Friends of Cuba, spoke on behalf of the large South African delegation attending the conference. The South African government is often pressured by imperialist powers around the world to condemn supposed human rights violations in Cuba, he told delegates.
“We remind them we do not have a short memory. When we were fighting for our freedom, those same countries were supporting the apartheid regime of South Africa against us,” he said, “and now they ask us to condemn those who fought and died together with us and shared our fate.”
Guinea-Bissau delegate Imani Na Umoja told a reporter for the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, “Conscious people have come from all over Africa to show our solidarity with Cuba. The worst crime in the world is to be ungrateful. When Africa called, Cuba answered. Now Cuba’s calling and Africa must answer. We have a debt.”
Nigerian delegate Denja Yaqub, from the Nigeria Labour Congress, stressed the broad political education tasks that must be central to the solidarity work in every country. “We can’t run away from the fact that we are faced with a contest of socialism versus capitalism,” he emphasized.
Lefika Chetty, another member of the South African delegation, described how “we have been trying to educate South African citizens from working class to bourgeoisie on the role that Cuba played in our own freedom.”
“The struggle that culminated in the winning of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale was a watershed for us.” she added. “It opened the doors to our own freedom.”
Graduates of Cuban universities
One of the most important features of the conference was the participation of delegates from across the continent who were graduates of Cuban universities — teachers, engineers, agronomists, medical personnel and many other disciplines. Today, they are not only using their training to address pressing social needs in their own countries. They are also the backbone of solidarity work with the Cuban Revolution in numerous countries.
Many were meeting each other for the first time, sometimes even those from the same country. They began discussing among themselves the potential for creating a network of collaboration across the continent and possibly organizing a continental day of solidarity.
According to former Cuban Ambassador to Namibia Angel Dalmau, who today serves as a food consultant to the Namibian Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, more than 40,000 African students have been educated in Cuba since the opening years of the revolution.
“People all over Africa have benefited from what the Cuban educational system has given us,” Namibian delegate Constancio Mwanoingi told participants at one of the commission sessions. “It’s important for those of us who have been trained in Cuba and understand the revolution to come together and defend Cuba and advance Africa.”
Mwanoingi, a Cassinga survivor, studied in Cuba from 1978 to 1985 and then returned to join the fighting ranks of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia. Along with others in the conference he plans to take part in activities that will be organized Oct. 11-12, on Cuba’s Isle of Youth to mark the 40th Anniversary of International Education in Cuba — 1977-2017.
On behalf of defenders of the Cuban Revolution in the United States, Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press, brought greetings from the National Network on Cuba, the Washington D.C., Metro Coalition in Solidarity With Revolutionary Cuba and the New York-New Jersey Cuba Sí Coalition.
In appreciation of the importance of the conference and the work of the Namibia-Cuba Friendship Association, Waters presented Andimba Toivo ya Toivo with a handsome bound display of photos recording Cuba’s more than 55-year record of solidarity with the independence struggles of the peoples of Africa.
Unanimously adopted at the closing session of the conference, the final declaration demanded the U.S. government end the “illegal, economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba.” It called for the “unconditional return to the government and people of Cuba of the territory illegally occupied by the government of the United States of America at the Naval Base in Guantánamo” and denounced the violations of human rights in the U.S. prison located there.
Delegates also affirmed their support for the struggles of the people of Western Sahara and Palestine, the independence struggle of the Puerto Rican people, and solidarity with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The invitation extended by the Nigerian delegation to host the 6th Africa continental conference in Lagos in 2019 was enthusiastically welcomed by all.
Fernando González: "What I owe the people of Namibia and Angola"
Help build Che brigade to Cuba, Sochi Youth Festival
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