Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Alvin Botes, delivering a statement on behalf of the Africa group on the occasion of the closing ceremony of the Ministerial Meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Photo: Katlholo Maifadi/DIRCO News
On July 26, 1953, the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba was the site of an armed attack by a group of 135 revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro.

This attack is widely accepted as the spark that ignited the Cuban revolution. Castro was charged and ended his legal defence with the now-famous closing argument: “History will absolve me.” This resonates with Nelson Mandela’s statement from the dock that ended: “It is an ideal for which I hope to live and see realised ... but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Cuba’s relations with African liberation movements began in 1963, soon after the struggle’s triumph over the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. Members of the Cuban leadership travelled to Algiers to build formal relations with the Algerian National Liberation Front, and Che Guevara’s trip around Africa in 1963 was a significant turning point in strengthening Cuba’s relationship with liberation movements around the continent.

Thus from 1963 until 1991, Cuba supported interventions in 17 African countries involving hundreds of thousands of Cuban soldiers, doctors and social workers.

Another aspect of Cuba’s foreign policy was its strong stance against the apartheid regime at international fora. Cuba’s support for UN Resolution 435, as well as direct support to Angola’s struggle to defend its independence from 1975 until 1988 against apartheid military incursions, formed the centrepiece of Cuban policy towards southern African liberation movements.

Indeed, history did absolve Fidel Castro and continues to absolve him. The evidence indicates that the Cuban revolution created a better life for all its citizens, which included wiping out illiteracy; free, quality education from early childhood development to tertiary level; returning the land and houses to the people; and free health care and social services, which increased the quality of life and life expectancy, thus giving back dignity to the ordinary people of Cuba.

Despite different ideologies and degrees of development, Cuba and South Africa share aspects of a historical legacy of colonisation, racism, slavery, liberation struggle, revolution, and post-colonial reconstruction and development.

As South Africa proceeds through another decade of transformation and post-apartheid rule, her relationship with Cuba is bound by our mutual developmental agenda as the country balances its internal needs with competitiveness in the global arena.

Equally, born more than half a century ago, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) embodied the collective identity and aspirations of newly independent nations in Africa and Asia.

The genesis of the NAM is relevant as a voice advocating for the poor, less-developed countries and highly indebted countries. Deepening South-South solidarity and using NAM as a pivotal instrument to build bridges with the North and highly industrialised countries of the world may present the best interlocutor for international diplomacy.

As we begin our next 25 years of democracy, we will continue to support our friends such as Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Palestine, Nicaragua, Western Sahara and every other country which suffers from unilateral economic blockades, violations of international law and territorial sovereignty.

* Botes is Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation. He is also an ANC National Executive Committee member.

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