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.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

How graft arrests came together

Learning from its failure to turn the Schabir Shaik conviction into one for Jacob Zuma, the state is now building an effective system for catching thieves. Khaya Koko, Sabelo Skiti and Paddy Harper take a look behind the scenes at how law enforcement agencies have started creating consequences for the corrupt

Richard Calland: South Africa needs a Roosevelt style of leadership

President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to hold ‘fireside chats’ and have more power and institutional muscle around him, writes Richard Calland

This beef smells like manure

What’s that animal sound? Is it a Hawk swooping? A chicken roosting? No, it’s Zuma remembering a beef

Editorial: Arrests expose the rot in the ANC

The ANC has used its power to create networks of patronage. And this means going after corruption will cost the party financially

eThekwini’s everlasting security contract

An invalid contract worth R85-million a month is still being paid — three years after a court order to stop

Zuma vs Ramaphosa? Neither is the leader South Africans deserve

Neither statesman could command sufficient authority in an ANC that remains mired in corruption and infighting and at the behest of big capital

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Eastern Cape universities concerned by rising Covid cases

Fort Hare says 26 more students have tested positive while Walter Sisulu University says some of its students have been admitted to hospital.

SAA in talks to recoup R350-million in blocked funds...

The cash-strapped national carrier is in the process of recouping its blocked funds from Zimbabwe, which could go towards financing the airline’s business rescue plan

NSFAS’s woes do not help its mandate

Nehawu wants the scheme’s administrator, Randall Carolissen, to be removed

Unions cry foul over SABC dismissal costs and retrenchments

Broadcaster bodies say claims that a recent skills audit is unrelated to retrenchments are ‘irrational’

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday