In 1991, after being freed from prison, Nelson Mandela traveled to Cuba to thank Fidel Castro and the Cuban people for supporting the fight against apartheid and colonialism in southern Africa. Below is an excerpt from the speech:
First secretary of the Communist Party, president of the Council of State and of the government of Cuba, president of the socialist republic of Cuba, commander-in-chief, Comrade Fidel Castro; Cuban internationalists, who have done so much to free our continent; Cuban people; comrades and friends:
It is a great pleasure and honour to be present here today, especially on so important a day in the revolutionary history of the Cuban people. Today Cuba commemorates the thirty-eighth anniversary of the storming of the Moncada. Without Moncada, the Granma expedition, the struggle in the Sierra Maestra, the extraordinary victory of January 1, 1959 would never have occurred.
Today this is revolutionary Cuba, internationalist Cuba, the country that has done so much for the peoples of Africa.
We have long wanted to visit your country and express the many feelings that we have about the Cuban revolution, about the role of Cuba in Africa, southern Africa, and the world.
The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character. From its earliest days the Cuban Revolution has itself been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.
We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gains made in the Cuban Revolution.
We too want to control our own destiny. We are determined that the people of South Africa will make their future and that they will continue to exercise their full democratic rights after liberation from apartheid. We do not want popular participation to cease at the moment when apartheid goes. We want to have the moment of liberation open the way to ever-deepening democracy.
We admire the achievements of the Cuban Revolution in the sphere of social welfare. We note the transformation from a country of imposed backwardness to universal literacy. We acknowledge your advances in the fields of health, education and science.
There are many things we learn from your experience. In particular we are moved by your affirmation of the historical connection to the continent and people of Africa. Your consistent commitment to the systematic eradication of racism is unparalleled.
But the most important lesson that you have for us is that no matter what the odds, no matter under what difficulties you have had to struggle, there can be no surrender! It is a case of freedom or death!
I know that your country is experiencing many difficulties now, but we have confidence that the resilient people of Cuba will overcome these as they have helped other countries overcome theirs. We know that the revolutionary spirit of today was started long ago and that its spirit was kindled by many early fighters for Cuban freedom, and indeed for freedom of all suffering under imperialist domination.
We too are also inspired by the life and example of Jose Marti, who is not only a Cuban and Latin American hero but justly honoured by all who struggle to be free.
We also honour the great Che Guevara, whose revolutionary exploits, including on our own continent, were too powerful for any prison censors to hide from us. The life of Che is an inspiration to all human beings who cherish freedom. We will always honour his memory.
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 than 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?
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, CIA-financed 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 defence of one of us.
We know also that this was a popular action in Cuba. We are aware that those who fought and died in Angola were only a small proportion of those who volunteered. For the Cuban people internationalism is not merely a word but something that we have seen practiced to the benefit of large sections of humankind.
We know that the Cuban forces were willing to withdraw shortly after repelling the 1975 invasion, but the continued aggression from Pretoria made this impossible.
Your presence and the reinforcement of your forces in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale was of truly historic significance. The crushing 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 decisive defeat of the apartheid aggressors broke the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressors!
The defeat 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 Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today!
Cuito Cuanavale was a milestone in the history of the str southern African liberation!
Cuito Cuanavale has been a turning point in the struggle to free the continent and our country from the scourge of apartheid!
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