REMARKS KZN PREMIER SIHLE ZIKALALA ON THE OCCASION OF WELCOMING CUBAN HEALTH PROFESSIONALS IN THE PROVINCE OF KWAZULU-NATAL, DURBAN, 20 MAY 2020
• KZN MEC for Health, Ms Nomagugu Zulu;
• KZN MEC for Finance, Mr Pillay;
• Our Guests of Honour – The Distinguished Cuban Health Brigade;
• Leaders of Various Political Parties;
• Esteemed Members of the Media;
• Hasta Siempre
1. On behalf of the Provincial Government and all the people of KwaZulu-Natal, we wish to extend a warm welcome to our Cuban brothers and sisters who have joined our country and our province to fight Covid-19.
2. We can say so many things about our beloved sister country Cuba. We can speak from dawn to dusk about Cuba’s heart which is as big as the universe itself. But today we wish to underline that the affection that many South Africans feel towards the people of Cuba derives from the deep trust that our people have for Cuba.
3. This trust that was forged during the crucible of struggle and sustained over many decades. It is a trust that has refused to die despite endless imperial attempts to drive a wedge between Cuba and the people of Africa.
4. And I know that I speak for many when I say as a province, as a country, and as a continent, we take immense pride in the revolutionary achievements that Cuba has achieved in education, medicine, and science. We share in Cuba’s successes especially since this country has achieved extraordinary results despite decades of an illegal blockade that has sought to destroy the Cuban revolution.
5. On a momentous day of human solidarity like today, we remember our two departed leaders, Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro. Today we pay tribute to both of them for their firm leadership in standing up against the forces of imperialism.
6. Relations between South Africa and Cuba are historic and enduring. They were forged in the struggle against apartheid and colonialism on the African continent.
7. Today, high-level political dialogues, solidarity, and mutual respect characterize the SA-Cuba relations.
8. As we know, SA-Cuba bilateral relations are structured through the Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM), which meets annually in our respective Capitals.
9. Our bilateral cooperation dates back to 1996 and our formal diplomatic relations to the dawn of democracy in 1994.
10. Our countries take immense pride in the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro (NMFC) medical collaboration programme.
11. We recall the arrival of the first Cuban doctors in South Africa in February 1996 which was also accompanied with a number of celebrations and a wreath laying ceremony at Freedom Park in Pretoria.
12. It is at Freedom Park that the names of 2070 Cuban internationalists who lost their lives in on African soil, in Angola, between 1975 and 1988 are etched in stone.
13. We salute our fallen martyrs and honour all the families of those Cuban soldiers who fell in the battlefield for the liberation of Africa.
14. And indeed history did absolve El Commandant Fidel Castro who had asserted that the “the history of Africa will be written as before and after Cuito Cuanavale.” Thanks to the anti-imperialist forces which had Cuba on its side, the mighty apartheid army suffered a humiliating defeat leading to the total liberation of Angola, the freedom of Namibia, and ultimately our own.
15. The people of Cuba never asked anything in return from Africa except the bodies of their compatriots who had fallen in our continent fighting for the total liberation of Africa.
16. It is this consistent selflessness that has endeared Cuba to the masses of our country. It is the spirit of selflessness and friendship that we saw between Fidel Castro and Argentinian born revolutionary and hero of the Cuban people, Che Guevara.
17. We trust and admire Cuba because as El Commandant Castro once said, for Cubans, their country is not just Cuba, but also the whole of humanity.
18. As we face a new war of an invisible enemy called COVID-19, we thank the government and people of Cuba for remembering their brothers and sisters in this part of the world again.
19. At the time when the capitalist oligarchy, America withdraw from funding World Health Organisation, the sons and daugthers of Jose Marti dedicate their own being in fight to protect the world humanity.
20. As you join our own health care workers and those from other parts of the world, we know that you all do this at a huge risk to your own lives.
21. But we know that there is no price too huge to pay for Cuban Internationalists when it comes to saving lives of others and changing the human condition.
22. We know that you are not only outstanding and skilled health professionals. But we also know that your work is truly revolutionary. It is about saving lives and giving hope to the despised and the marginalised. It is about creating a more equal and just society.
23. Side by side, let us our work to advance the vision of a South Africa that is truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, equal, and prosperous.
24. We can say with certainty that history has absolved the historic bonds between our countries and the friendship between Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro.
25. Our leaders and fallen combatants said the history of Africa will be radically different after the defeat of the apartheid army in Angola.
26. We must also say, the history of the world must be different after COVID-19. Together we must fight for quality universal health care, for the reform of the UN Security Council, and for fair trade including the end of the embargo against Cuba.
27. We know that whether you are working in a hut in rural Msinga or clinic in an informal settlement or at Pixley ka Isaka Seme Hospital; that in every corner of our province you would be home. We know that in all the patients that you will treat or people you will test you will see yourselves in them, you will see their hopes and dreams. We know that your reward and fulfilment will be to save as many lives as possible.
28. South Africa and our province cannot repay your efforts and sacrifices. We can only express our sincere gratitude for choosing to join our people in this fight against a virus that seeks to undermine all the gains we have achieved together over many decades.
29. We call on all the people of KwaZulu-Natal to show the great hospitality that they are known for. And we call on them once more to know that without their cooperation and discipline, we will not overcome this enemy.
30. Covid-19 is an enemy which requires a complete transformation of behaviour. We urge all our people to continue to avoid crowded places, to practice regular hand hygiene, and to observe social distancing.
31. As I sit, lets me draw inspiration the poem, “Song of Protest”, by Pablo Neruda:
Fidel, Fidel, the people are grateful
for words in action and deeds that sing,
that is why I bring from far
a cup of my country’s wine:
it is the blood of a subterranean people
That from the shadows reaches your throat,
they are miners who have lived for centuries
extracting fire from the frozen land…
And they support you because you represent
the collective honour of our long struggle,
and if Cuba were to fall we would all fall,
and we would come to lift her,
And if she blooms with flowers
She will flourish with our own nectar.
And if they dare touch Cuba’s
forehead, by your hands liberated,
they will find people’s fists,
we will take out our buried weapons:
blood and pride will come to rescue,
to defend our beloved Cuba.
Once more, thank you very much and welcome home.
Together, Let us Create Our Common Future