By Pinky Khoabane
Fidel Castro with his Comrade, Che Guevara
FIDEL CASTRO – He not only created history, he shaped it and left an indelible mark few will ever make.
It was with great sadness I learnt of the death of the Revolutionary of all time – in my view- Fidel Castro.
I got to know about Fidel Castro as a young girl in Form 1, what would be referred to as Grade 8 in today’s and particularly in the South African schooling system. I was 11 years old at the time and will never forget the impact of the selflessness, courage and bravery of a man I grew to adore.
I happened to go to a school whose history teacher, Mr Reddy, was what I have come to realise was a revolutionary himself. He took us around the world and introduced us to Socialism, Communism, Capitalism, Imperialism, Colonialism, Imperialism, Zionism and the evil apartheid system. He had been recruited to our school in Lesotho from what was Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He had experienced first-hand the policies of racial segregation and injustice and spoke with venom, when we came to that part of history.
With his fingers constantly stroking through his pitch-black hair, the historian would pace up-and-down as he introduced us to the heroes and villains who ran the world. His brand of history was more politics than anything else, I now realise. It was West versus East. Capitalism against Socialism. He didnt leave capitalism to the political leaders alone but exposed the handful of families that ruled the world and contrasted it against Castro’s and his comrade, Che Guevara’s quest and fight for the betterment of humanity and social justice the world over.
Mr Reddy shaped my outlook of life. I remember thinking the first country I would visit when I was a grown-up and had money – it would be Cuba. And indeed I travelled there and found it to be the best place to be. I have felt more at ease and at home there than in my own South Africa.
Such is my adoration for Castro that when he came to South Africa for the inauguration of the first democratic President Nelson Mandela, I tried to sneak-in as one of the waiters just for an opportunity to meet him. I didnt make it.
I have perused some tributes to Castro and bring them here
Muchkund Dubey: Fidel Castro: A revolutionary, an icon for the Third World and a “genuine friend of India”. (The author is a former Ambassador and former Indian Foreign Secretary. Views expressed are personal.)
“In spite of his continuing struggle for his country’s survival against the crippling measures imposed by the neighbouring imperialist power, what he achieved for Cuba during his lifetime has remained unachieved in the rest of the Third World. He established an educational system in his country of which there is no parallel in any developing country and in a number of developed countries. The quality health system under his leadership, accessible to every Cuban virtually without charges, has no match even in developed countries. He failed in his plan to industrialise Cuba, but that was in large part due to the trade embargo maintained by the United States. For, a small country like Cuba cannot set up viable industries without being a part of the regional and global economic system, which was persistently denied to Cuba…..
I bow my head in gratefulness to all that Fidel has done for Cuba, developing countries and the world”.
“Fidel Castro, Cuba’s revolutionary leader who defied US for 50 years, dies aged 90”
“Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 US presidents during his half-century rule, has died at age 90.
Castro’s reign over the island-nation 90 miles from Florida was marked by the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling US trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday on state television.
Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades, he served as an inspiration and source of support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa.
His commitment to socialism was unwavering, though his power finally began to fade in mid-2006 when a gastrointestinal ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008, provisionally at first and then permanently. His defiant image lingered long after he gave up his trademark Cohiba cigars for health reasons and his tall frame grew stooped.
“Socialism or death” remained Castro’s rallying cry even as Western-style democracy swept the globe and other communist regimes in China and Vietnam embraced capitalism, leaving this island of 11 million people an economically crippled Marxist curiosity.