The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the current Dean of St George's Cathedral. Picture: Leon Muller
The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the current Dean of St George's Cathedral. Picture: Leon Muller

Alex la Guma, an African hero lies buried in Cuba

By Michael Weeder Time of article published Jul 8, 2017

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Amílcar Cabral, philosopher and a leader in the struggle for independence in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, referring to Cuba’s principled solidarity with the people of Africa, noted: “ the souls of our forefathers who were taken away to America to be slaves are rejoicing today to see their children reunited and working together to help us be independent and free”.

It was a theme emphasised decades later by General Luis Moracen, a veteran of the Cuban presence in Angola.

On the eve of his return to Havana in January 1989 he told a reporter from the New York Times: ‘’When we first came to Angola, everyone said our aid had ulterior motives”. A reference to the oil and diamonds that lured less altruistic individuals and countries.

He concluded, “ we are leaving only with the affection of the Angolan people, and with our dead".

The Cuban soldiers who fell on the battlefields of Angola were reinterred in the cemeteries of their island home in the Caribbean. These included the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colónat where another African of slave descent, Alex la Guma, lies buried. He had been the ANC's chief representative in Cuba and the Caribbean.

In her autobiography, In the Dark With My Dress on Fire, Blanche la Guma, his wife and comrade, recalls their courting days: “Alex was debonair. He’d sing a song or recite a poem. I was struck deeply when he recited Cyrano de Bergerac, 'Your name hangs like a bell around my heart. When it rings it says, ‘Blanche, Blanche, I love you'."

Their love, undimmed over the years of house arrest, death threats and detention, was premised on mutual respect and values imbued by the struggle for liberation, at home and abroad.

La Guma, our African Dostoyevsky, died of a heart attack in Havana. With him on the back seat of their car, Blanche frantically headed for the hospital. They got stuck in the late afternoon rush hour on the last bend before the hospital. Her name, the bell around his heart, was the last words she heard him say.

This literary colossus and stoic freedom fighter is remembered in his distant grave among the people of Cuba.

Yet like his father, James, there are no signs, memorabilia of love and remembrance that signals that la Guma walked and lived on this African shore of our port city.

If I was in Cuba today

(for Blanche la Guma, with affection)

If I was in Cuba today

I would be at the grave of Alex la Guma

in the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colónat.

Our District Six Dostoevsky.

I will sing: “da ga’rie padtjie narie kramat toe.”

A coconut shell slanging a goema riddim.

You will catch the tune and sing with me,

as I libate the ground with a tot of buchu-brandy.

Cigar smoke, infused with a sniff of Jamaican sunshine,

incense the air with the forgotten familiar of home.

If I was in Cuba today

we will slow salsa under a carib moon,

keening low, like old lovers do.

We will sing about “jou matras en my kombers”

like Blanche and Alex would once have sung:

their eyes on the waters of the Playas del Este.

Their hearts blissed by the breeze slinking

down the moonlit lanes beyond Roger Street, across

the Parade to the bay of their sighed longing.

I will stand in gratitude at your grave, Uncle Alex,

in Havana today, and to say that we

have not forgotten you and your words

that led us through the fog and beyond

the night of draconian ghosts

to where we walk the days of freedom.

“And those who persist in hatred and humiliation must prepare. Let them prepare hard and fast - they do not have long to wait”. - From In the Fog of the Season’s End

by Alex La Guma

* The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Weekend Argus

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