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The history of Cuba’s unprecedented humanitarian work in Africa

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: May 28, 2020 - 7:47:51 AM

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Ace Magashule, secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC), during a recent lecture on the importance of solidarity and internationalism with progressive people around the globe, highlighted the impact of the Cuban revolution in the South African struggle against imperialism and colonialism.

Magashule thanked the Cuban people and the late revolutionary leader Commandant Fidel Castro for having the vision resulting in the island nation being one of the premier countries providing medical doctors and training African students to become doctors and helping to mitigate the continent’s health maladies, including the coronavirus pandemic.

“Cuba has been there in the forefront assisting many countries during difficulties when some of them were confronted by calamities such as earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, pandemics, floods, and many others,” he explained.

Cuban Medical Brigade that arrived in South Africa on April 27, is ready to assist the South African-people in the fight against Covid-19. Photos via Twitter/EmbassyCuba_in_ZA

“Throughout its history we have seen Cuba sending its comprehensive medical doctors and other expertise to countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Armenia, Iran, China, Bolivia, Salvador, Nicaragua, Equador, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru, Honduras, Chile, Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, East Timor, Italy, South Africa and many others during difficult times of need,” said Magashule to the ANC Youth League-sponsored event.

Speaking to a wide range of youth representatives, including student leaders, Magashule touted the assistance provided by Cuba.

“Even today, at the wake of the disastrous pandemic of the coronavirus (Covid-19), the Cuban medical brigade, the ‘Army of the White Gowns,’ have been deployed in more than 23 countries of the world to fulfill its humanitarian mission of combating the outbreak of the pandemic,” he said. “The Army of the White Gowns is presently fulfilling its internationalist duty in countries such as Nicaragua, China, Venezuela, Antigua, Barbuda, Belize, Italy, Granada, Suriname, Angola, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Qatar, Togo, Cape Verde, Andorra, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Argentina, Honduras, Barbados, Dominica, Haiti and in our country South Africa.”

In April more than 200 health professionals arrived in South Africa from Cuba. The Cuban government-sponsored delegation of health professionals included doctors and community health and infectious disease specialists.

The South African government requested assistance from Cuba to assist with the pandemic. They have sent more than 1,000 doctors to 22 countries, including Togo, Cape Verde and Angola.

The Cuban medical team, before they were deployed, experienced a two-week quarantine before they started working. They arrived just as South Africa had increased community testing for Covid-19, especially in poor, crowded neighborhoods, reported the Associated Press.

After the quarantine, 13 of the 217 health specialists were welcomed by the Limpopo Health Department, with MEC (Minimum Essential Coverage) of Health in Limpopo Dr. Phophi Ramathuba saying they were relying on their expertise. The group was comprised of eight family physicians, one epidemiologist, one biostatistician and three health technologists.

Ramathuba said the Cubans came at the right time, adding that being a rural province, Limpopo had been struggling without epidemiologists and biostatisticians who are key in building the province on how best to approach the Covid-19 pandemic, reported

The remainder of the Cuban specialists will receive similar deployments in different locations throughout the country.

According to the ANC secretary general, Cuba is responsible for over 56,000 scholarships, awarded to students from 138 countries, with most graduating as medical doctors, engineers, and other related science professionals from Cuban institutes of higher learning. Sub-Saharan Africa has 16,438 graduates and there are 2,330 graduates from North Africa.

In the Southern and East African regions Cuban scholarships given to students have included those from Ethiopia 1,667, Tanzania 279, Angola 2,611, Mozambique 569, Lesotho 84 and South Africa 832.

“These are the feats of solidarity and internationalism the Cuban revolution has contributed to many people of the world. Cuba has always understood that its moral obligation is nothing else but to contribute towards the wellbeing of the people of the world, and specifically to the working class and the poor,” said Magashule to his youthful listeners.

During President Nelson Mandela’s first visit to Cuba after his release from prison, he mentioned with Castro seated near him, the world owes a debt of gratitude to Cuba for its unselfish contributions to the oppressed and downtrodden.

At the historic occasion of the 38th anniversary celebrations of the Moncada rebellion, where Castro’s failed coup attempt catapulted him into a leadership position against the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, Mandela said the following words of gratitude:

“We come here with great humility. We come here with great emotion. We come here with a sense of a great debt that is owed to the people of Cuba. What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness that Cuba has displayed in its relations with Africa? How many countries of the world benefit from Cuban health workers or educationists? How many of these are in Africa? Where is the country that has sought Cuban help and has had it refused? How many countries under threat from imperialism or struggling for national liberation have been able to count on Cuban support?”

Mr. Mandela continued: “It was in prison when I first heard of the massive assistance that the Cuban internationalist forces provided to the people of Angola, on such a scale that one hesitated to believe, when the Angolans came under combined attack of South African, CIAfinanced FNLA mercenary, UNITA, and Zairean troops in 1975. We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty.”

It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defense of one of us, continued Mr. Mandela. “Your presence and the reinforcement of your forces in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale (a town in Angola. Battle took place between August 1987 and March 1988) was of truly historic significance. The crushing defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale was a victory of the whole of Africa. The overwhelming defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale provided the possibility for Angola to enjoy peace and consolidate its own sovereignty. The defeat of the racist army allowed the struggling people of Namibia to finally win their independence,” the late freedom fighter continued.

“The decisive defeat of the apartheid aggressors broke the myth of the invincibility of the White oppressors. The effect of the apartheid army was an inspiration to the struggling people inside South Africa. Without the defeat of Cuito Cuanavale our organizations would not have been unbanned. The defeat of the racist army at Quito Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here with you today,” said Mr. Mandela.

Castro responded to Mandela’s remarks in part by stating: “I believe his words must be like golden letters, written in honor of our fighters. He was very generous. He remembered our people’s odyssey in Africa where all the spirit, heroism, and determination of this revolution was demonstrated. We were in Angola for 15 years.” 

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