Mandela, Castro’s special bond recalled


7 March 2014

The deep respect and affection shared by Nelson Mandela and Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro is the focus of Mandela and Fidel, a new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Estela Bravo.

The documentary was screened during the first in a series of three Mandela/Fidel Legacy Dialogues at the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Pretoria last week. The second will be held in Cuba later this year, and the third back in South Africa.

Mandela and Fidel begins with Mandela attending Namibia’s independence celebrations in March 1990, only a month following his release. Meeting with top Cuban officials, he says: “We have never doubted that in Cuba, we have a dependable friend.”

He acknowledges that without Cuba’s involvement in the war in Angola, South Africa would probably still be occupying parts of that country and Namibian independence “would have been very difficult to achieve”.

The following year Mandela travelled to Cuba, where he was feted everywhere, Castro at his side. In the documentary, Castro tells an audience: “If you want to have an example of a truly honourable man, then this man is Nelson Mandela.”

The documentary follows their relationship for several more years, including Castro’s attendance at Mandela’s presidential inauguration in May 1994.

The audience at last week’s screening applauded Mandela’s forthright manner, for example in defending South Africa’s relationship with Cuba, and laughed at his “rebuking” Castro for not responding to a four-year-old invitation to visit South Africa. Castro’s visit took place a few months after that.

US-born Estela Bravo became a resident of revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s. She has made dozens of films, mostly focusing on sensitive social and political issues in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. She has also made other acclaimed documentaries about Castro, according to the foundation.

Opening last week’s discussion, at which Bravo was an invited guest, Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Sello Hatang noted that Mandela and Castro had always met with the greeting “my brother”.

Cuba always supported South Africa’s liberation struggle, and even now its support for the country was extensive, Hatang said. “The lesson is, solidarity is a possibility, and it delivers.”

Unisa vice-chancellor Mandla Makhanya noted in his speech that the mutual respect that Mandela and Castro felt mirrored the struggles for freedom of their respective countries.

He concluded by quoting Castro: “The quality of life lies in knowledge, in culture. Values are what constitute true quality of life, the supreme quality of life, even above food, shelter and clothing,” and then Mandela: “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

Cuban ambassador Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told the gathering that the strong relationship between the two men portrayed in the documentary reflected a relationship between South Africa and Cuba dating back to the early 1960s, at the time of the Cuban revolution.

Cuba was “an early supporter” of South Africa’s struggle, training cadres as early as 1962 and later committing thousands of troops to the war in Angola, of whom 2000 died “in solidarity with the peoples of Africa,” de Cossio said.

“We are proud in Cuba of our relationship with South Africa, and to have South Africa as a friend.”

Also a guest at the screening, Barbara Masekela, South Africa’s former ambassador to the US, who accompanied Mandela to Cuba in 1991, said Mandela’s friendship with Castro had been “born in the trenches of the freedom struggle”.

“It’s not unlike the relationship he had with Walter Sisulu, and the relationship he had with Oliver Tambo.”

Masekela hailed Bravo as “a great filmmaker”, saying: “There is a strain that goes through all of her films, and that strain is the collective memory we must all share.”

During a question-and-answer session after the screening, Bravo said that Mandela’s 1991 visit to Cuba had come at a very important time, when socialism worldwide was collapsing, to “show solidarity with Cuba”.

She said South Africa was privileged to have had Mandela, asking: “Who in the world is more loved than Mandela?”

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation