Qhawe lamaqhawe!: Read President Zuma’s moving tribute to Fidel Castro

President Zuma attended the funeral of former Cuban president Fidel Castro, where he delivered a graceful tribute. Whilst opposition to Zuma’s leadership in South Africa grows stronger, the president seems to have gotten it right in Cuba.

The president’s message to Castro was largely one of gratitude and thanks for the former Cuban leader’s influence in the liberation movements of many African nations, including South Africa. While Castro’s legacy has been contested because of the authoritarian manner in which he governed, Zuma was unapologetic in his thanks to Castro, explaining why he is important to South Africans.

Read the full tribute below:

Your Excellency, President Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz and members of your Government,

Members of the Castro Ruz family

Heads of State and Government,

Members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba,

Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps,

Fellow mourners,

Comrades and friends,

The people and government of the Republic of South Africa learned with sadness of the passing of one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time and one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century, Comrade President Fidel Castro Ruz.

We join the progressive forces of the world in mourning and celebrating the life of this renowned internationalist and anti-imperialist, who selflessly supported the struggles of the oppressed and exploited.

The passing of Comrade Fidel is a painful loss for the South African people.

He stood with us in solidarity, supporting our struggle including the international campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.

We knew that we could rely on Cuba, a trusted friend and ally of the oppressed.

Significantly, the deep and undying special relationship between Cuba and Africa was cemented by the blood of heroic Cuban soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice for their belief in anti-imperialism, freedom and justice.

Cuba deployed close to half a million soldiers and officers in Africa, to support the struggles for national independence or against foreign aggression, over 30 years.

In particular, Cuba’s Angolan intervention stands out as the greatest example of international solidarity that changed the course of history.

Comrade Fidel deployed combat troops, military advisors and equipment to defend Angola from an invasion by the racist South African Defence Force which was backed by negative proxy local forces.

The mission was also to liberate Namibia and boost the liberation efforts in South Africa between 1987 and 1988.

It was this engagement that led to the epic battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, in which the Cubans forced the South African racist apartheid regime into a humiliating and devastating retreat.

The historic defeat of the racist forces consolidated the victory of the MPLA in Angola and also laid the basis for Namibian independence in 1990, leading to South Africa’s own liberation in 1994.

We salute Comrade Fidel for this selfless sacrifice.

Cuba was not looking for gold, diamonds or oil in Africa.

The Cubans only wanted to see freedom and an end to the treatment of Africa as a playground of powerful nations while people suffered.

Addressing the South African parliament in 1998, Comrade Fidel said about the Cuban soldiers in Africa:

“From the African land in which they worked and fought voluntarily and selflessly, they only took back to Cuba the remains of their fallen comrades and the honour of having fulfilled their duty. That is why we know and value the human qualities of Africa much more than those that for centuries colonised and exploited this continent”.

We also recall the words of our President Oliver Tambo at the meeting of the non-aligned countries here in Havana in 1979.

He said Africans had come to know the Cuban people “not merely by meeting them in their own country but because they live with us in Africa, they fight with us, they die with us, they fail and they win, with us. They have become part of the struggling people of our continent”.

Most significantly, we will remember Comrade Fidel as a great fighter for the ideal that the poor have a right to live in dignity.

That is why the Cuban revolution was and still remains an inspiration to South Africa and the world on how to achieve a better life for the poor.

Today Cuba has higher health standards than many developed countries.

It has sent thousands of its doctors to many parts of the world.

South Africa has gained many Cuban doctors in our hospitals and clinics, often in the most remote areas of our country. In addition, many of our youth have qualified as medical practitioners in Cuba and many are continuing to study in this country.

Cuba had also opened the doors of its schools and universities for the education of many South Africans during our days in exile.

President Mandela remarked in 1998 during President Fidel Castro’s visit to South Africa that Cuba’s achievements in delivering social services such as education and health were an inspiration.

He said this conveyed a message to the developing world, that ignorance and disease were not “unalterable conditions of human life”.

We also admire Cuba’s unique Cuban value system, which includes a deep sense of patriotism. This is something we want our youth to learn, as we build a new society based on human solidarity in our own country.


It is remarkable that Cuba has scored all these achievements in human development, despite facing one of the fiercest and unjust economic blockades on any country, by the United States of America.

We will continue to support the efforts of lifting of the economic blockade of Cuba by the US. We urge the United Nations to play its role in the resolution of this decades long impasse.


Comrades and friends,

Commander in Chief Fidel Castro attracted many enemies and survived hundreds of assassination attempts because of his unapologetic stance against imperialism.

We must endeavour to take forward the ideals that he espoused – internationalism, freedom, equality, justice and a better and more just world.

We must strengthen the voice of the South and deepen collaboration within the Group of 77 and China, within the Non-Aligned Movement, and now also within BRICS.

We extend our deepest condolences to the family, the government and the people of Cuba.

Go well Comrade Fidel! You have run your race. You have fought a good fight. May your soul now rest in eternal peace.

Hamba kahle Comrade Fidel, Qhawe lamaqhawe!

I thank you.

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