By Tafara Shumba
As there might be some people who are gleefully celebrating the death of the former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, for Zimbabwe and the rest of the African continent, the man’s immense contribution to their liberation, education and the medical fields, among others, will not be easy to forget for a very long time to come.
President Robert Mugabe fittingly left for Cuba on Monday to mourn the man who is a symbol for the freedom, justice, equality and human dignity. He was a revolutionary who stood by Zimbabwe and many other countries in the continent during their difficult times of the struggle for liberation.
Zimbabwe and Cuba share similar experiences and strong historical links. Both countries are under the US sanctions, simply for the reasons that the founding leaders of both countries have charted paths that usher wholesale independence to the citizens of the two countries. Cuba has been under the US blockade for over 50 years. The economic embargo was chiefly meant to incite the people of Cuba to revolt against the legitimate government of Cde Fidel. However, the people of Cuba were not swayed by the sanctions. They have been unwaveringly standing by Cde Fidel for all these long years.
Zimbabwe has been under the US-EU sanctions for 14 years now, simply for the ‘crime’ of economically empowering the people of Zimbabwe. The land reform programme in which the Zimbabwean government decided to right the skewed land distribution, invited the heinous sanctions. Zimbabwe learnt from Cuba how to resist sanctions. Ever since the illegal sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe, President Mugabe’s popularity continues to grow in leaps and bounce. The year 2013 bears testimony to that. The sanctions imposed on both Zimbabwe and the Caribbean Island miserably failed to achieve their intended objective. Hopefully the West has learnt that sanctions are no longer effective in removing legitimate governments.
“Cuba and Zimbabwe are together because of strong historical links, very big historical links, and because of our common cause against sanctions that are designed simply to change our systems and that is something that is unacceptable because it is for our people to decide the destiny for their countries,” said former Cuban Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Enrique Antonio Prieto Lopez when bidding farewell to Cde Simon Khaya Moyo in 2013.
Cuba under the leadership of Cde Fidel played a pivotal role in the struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation. Cde Fidel inspired revolutionaries in Africa and Zimbabwe’s was unquestionably the most inspired. In the early 1960s, Cuba was already training Zimbabwean guerrillas, mostly from ZIPRA, the ZAPU military wing. Most of the guerrillas were trained in Angola.
One of the fine products of the Cuban military training, Retired Brigadier General Abel Mazinyane said: “After this initial visit, Cuban comrades became a permanent part of our struggle. We had Cuban doctors whose invaluable support and assistance enabled us to sustain a courageous force, instructors and other experts. The broad assistance of the Cuban friends also covered military capacity building and intelligence.”
Retired Brigadier General Mazinyane said despite the food crisis that was in Angola, the Cubans brought their own food to Angola to sustain themselves during training. He said the Cubans used to say “the only thing they were going to take to Cuba from Angola was the friendship of the Angolan people and the dead bodies of the fallen Cuban comrades.” This all goes to show that Cuba’s gallant sacrifice was absolutely a gratis assistance.
Cuba was engaged in international educational projects where over 18 000 students from 37 nations were trained mainly in science and mathematics teaching as well as some vocational skills. In other instances, Cuban teachers are deployed to developing countries to fill the teaching gaps in the science subjects. Zimbabwe was one such a developing nation that benefitted from Cde Fidel’s educational donations through the Cuba-Zimbabwe Teacher Training Programme (CZTP).
After independence, President Mugabe’s government embarked on a human development programme through education. Thus, the Education for All Programme was enunciated to make education accessible to all. However, there was a serious shortage of science teachers in Zimbabwe and this gave rise to the CZTP which saw 3 000 Zimbabwean Science and Maths teachers being trained in Cuba. Due to economic reasons, the programme was relocated to Zimbabwe in 1995. A college which later became Bindura University of Science Education was set up to continue with the training of science teachers.
Cuba has about 32 medical brigades in Africa comprising of 4048 health personnel, 2269 of which are medical doctors. Zimbabwe is one of the beneficiaries of the Cuba-Africa cooperation in the medical field. In the past 30 years of the cooperation the country has enjoyed the services of over 800 medical personnel of different specialties. Readers may recall how the Cuban doctors tirelessly fought the cholera epidemic in 2008.
Hopefully government will expedite the training programme of medical personnel at Bindura University by Cuban doctors in the same mould as that of teachers’ training programme at same.
The cooperation between Zimbabwe and Cuba is now transcending the health and education fields. In September this year, the Minister of Sport and Recreation Makhosini Hlongwane signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Cuba on cooperation in sports and recreation. Such fields as agriculture and technology among others must follow suit.
As the world mourns the revolutionary icon, Zimbabwe would do well if a street is named after the man who left a wealth of legacy for it. Rest In Peace Cde Fidel!
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.