Saturday, July 26, 2014

What Fidel Castro and the ANC don't want you to know about Cuba and South Africa

"Cuba is the sea of happiness. Towards there goes Venezuela. " - Hugo Chavez,  March 8, 2000

Open Letter from the ANC to the Communist Party of Cuba
Voice of America is reporting that South Africa has launched a campaign against US sanctions on Cuba. Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom of sanctions and also taking into account the South African government's close relations with Cuba the position is not at all surprising and should not be a shock. Nevertheless, the call to release the remaining Cuban spies serving sentences for past crimes in the United States should give one pause. The misnamed "Cuban Solidarity Campaign" seeks to support the Castro regime. Finally what raised concerns about the future of South African democracy is an "Open letter from the African National Congress (ANC) to the Communist Party of Cuba" written by Gwede Mantashe and published on July 25, 2014 that not only celebrates the Cuban Communist Party but its guiding hand in shaping South African democracy while also quoting Lenin:
"In our quest to strengthen and consolidate our democracy, we still rely on the PCC`s willingness and ability to hold our hand against all odds. The ANC will continue to work closely with your party collaborating in all aspects of development and peace. As Vladimir I Lenin stated, 'taking power is easy the challenge is keeping it.' Demands on our 20-year-old democracy are many and varied. The glaring inequality and abject poverty of the majority of South Africans did not come in 1994. This is the legacy of centuries of oppression and deprivation."
However, ideas have consequences as does the belief that "it can't happen here." For example in Venezuela, under a flawed democracy, many thought that Hugo Chavez would shake things up but that it was impossible for the country of Bolivar to follow the path of Cuba under the Castro brothers. Despite the claims of President Chavez that this was precisely where he wanted to take the country. Fourteen years later and with a heavy Cuban presence involved in the repression of Venezuelans and the rule of law obliterated; opinions have changed. Many Venezuelans are risking their lives and freedoms to restore the rule of law, basic freedoms, and ending the rising violence in society. 

Glorifying a false and violent narrative
Michael N. Nagler, in the Six Principles of Nonviolence observes that: "Violence sometimes 'works,' that is, forces a particular change, but in the long run leads to more misery and disorder." In the case of South Africa the decision of the African National Congress to adopt violence as a means to end Apartheid in 1961 may in fact have prolonged the life of the racist regime by decades.  However, in the open letter by the African National Congress a different and self-serving narrative is constructed:
"We do not forget the great battle of Cuito Canavale where the myth of the invincibility of the might of racist South Africa was shuttered once and for all. The military skills of the cadres of both SWAPO and ANC trained by the Cubans sent the racists packing. The "Stalin Organ" or Katusha was so devastating it sent them running helter skelter all over the place. The South African Defense Force (SADF) was forced out and had to face the nation - albeit the white minority - to explain the body bags to parents and loved ones of the young men who had fallen illegally outside the borders of their country. Their grip on illegally occupied Namibia slipped away and the way was paved for the liberation of South Africa. The ANC was absolved by history as the unrelenting force for liberation and peace."
For the record both sides claimed victory in the above mentioned battle. What is disturbing is that the open letter uses the same language of being "absolved" while referencing another act of violence that took place in Cuba in 1953:
"We particularly wish to acknowledge this friendship of progressive forces in this month of July, which marks the 61st Anniversary of the raid on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, a campaign that is to the Cuban revolution what the sabotage campaign was to the ANC in the 1960`s at the beginning of the armed struggle against apartheid. We actually have one of our Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK) detachments named the Moncada Detachment. This is after throngs of young people especially students from all over South Africa joined the ANC and MK to fight the scourge in our country that was condemned as a crime against humanity by the United Nations. The friendship between the CPC and the ANC is not accidental. ... We are working very hard to educate our people about this bond and the trials and tribulations of the Cuban revolution. In a tradition began by the likes of Jose Marti, our brother and comrade Fidel Castro and members of the PCC managed to lead Cuba to freedom. From as early as 1962, despite difficulties created by the imperialist forces, Cuba offered South Africans much needed military and academic training."

The Nonviolent Campaign that ended Apartheid
The narrative laid out by the African National Congress glorifies violence but does not reflect what happened. One thing remains clear the ANC's goal of lifting economic sanctions on the Castro regime is to ensure that the Cuban Communist Party thrive and remain in power in Cuba.  The argument made by some, that engaging the Castro government with trade, investment and political recognition will lead to a democratic transition, was repudiated when made with regards to the South African Apartheid regime. For example consider the following statement by Immanuel Wallerstein, co-chairman of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars in 1977:
"Astonishingly, it is argued that strengthening the economic basis of the white apartheid regime will in fact bring change. This is nonsense, and those who speak it know it ... Continued American investment in South Africa in any form is continued American support for the regime in power. Those who wish to support change in South Africa have only two ways to do it: (1) active assistance to the liberation movement; (2) a call for United States economic disinvestment and political disengagement from the present South African state. The rest is sophistry."
Despite the current propaganda offensive, inside South Africa it was not the ANC and the armed struggle that brought the Apartheid regime to the negotiating table but the United Democratic Front (UDF). ANC and Castro apologists have generated a so-called secret history that is propaganda that has successfully glorified a failed violent struggle as successful. What is often overlooked is the real history of how the Apartheid regime was brought to an end. This is the history of the UDF and the successful nonviolent struggle it carried out that is documented in A Force More Powerful:
 In the city of Port Elizabeth, Mkhuseli Jack, a charismatic 27-year-old youth leader, understands that violence is no match for the state's awesome arsenal. Jack stresses the primacy of cohesion and coordination, forming street committees and recruiting neighborhood leaders to represent their interests and settle disputes. Nationally, a fledgling umbrella party, the United Democratic Front (UDF), asserts itself through a series of low-key acts of defiance, such as rent boycotts, labor strikes, and school stay aways.
Advocating nonviolent action appeals to black parents who are tired of chaos in their neighborhoods. The blacks of Port Elizabeth agree to launch an economic boycott of the city's white-owned businesses. Extending the struggle to the white community is a calculated maneuver designed to sensitize white citizens to the blacks' suffering. Beneath their appeal to conscience, the blacks' underlying message is that businesses cannot operate against a backdrop of societal chaos and instability.
Confronted by this and other resistance in the country, the government declares a state of emergency, the intent of which is to splinter black leadership through arbitrary arrests and curfews. Jack and his compatriots, however, receive an entirely different message: the country is fast becoming ungovernable. Apartheid has been cracked.
Undaunted by government reprisals, the UDF continues to press its demands, particularly for the removal of security forces and the release of jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. White retailers, whose business districts have become moribund, demand an end to the stalemate. The movement also succeeds in turning world opinion against apartheid, and more sanctions are imposed on South Africa as foreign corporations begin to pull out many investments. In June 1986, the South African government declares a second state of emergency to repress the mass action that has paralyzed the regime.
End of the Cold War coincides with End of Apartheid
If further proof were needed that the violence and militarism of the African National Congress (ANC) and Castro's troops did not achieve change in South Africa then one need only consider that negotiations to end Apartheid began in 1990 after the collapse of the East Bloc and ended in 1991 the year the Soviet Union ended. The ANC no longer had the weapons and financial support provided by the Castro regime and Soviets from the 1960s into the early 1980s. There are those in South Africa who in 1989 mourned the passing of the Berlin Wall but if not for the end of the Cold War things may not have changed. Paul Trewhela in politicsweb offered the following analysis:
On 9 November 1989, twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall cracked open, the Cold War in Europe came to an end, the Soviet empire tottered to its grave and the ANC military option lost whatever teeth it might have had. The military/security state erected by the National Party never lost a centimeter squared of its soil. Umkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC and the South African Communist Party, never won a centimeter squared of soil. True, the repeated mass mobilizations and popular uprisings within South Africa through the Seventies and the Eighties placed a colossal strain upon the regime, and, true, the economic strain upon the state - especially in conditions of attrition exercised against it by the US banking system - placed it under further serious pressures. Nevertheless, honest accounting must say that, given the continuation of the Cold War system in Africa, this nuclear-armed state at its southern tip was nowhere near collapse.
The international situation that undermined the ANC's armed struggle combined with the successful nonviolent campaigns of the United Democratic Front (UDF) facilitated the end of Apartheid in South Africa. This is because in South Africa there was a far older tradition of nonviolence going back to 1893 - 1914 with Mohandas Gandhi's experiments with nonviolence in South Africa. It was in South Africa on September 11, 1906 that the word Satyagraha came into existence. In the same way that in Cuba there are dueling legacies one violent; one nonviolent the same holds true in South Africa. It is this legacy of nonviolence that has endured and gives hope for the future unfortunately abandoning it and embracing the false and violent narrative of Castroism is a recipe for endangering South African democracy. Under the Castro regime, nonviolent Cuban opposition leaders, such as  Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante have been killed under suspicious circumstances reminiscent of what was done to Steven Biko during the Apartheid regime.

Castroism's corrosive impact on democracy
Replicating the Cuban model in Venezuela has not brought the South American country into a sea of happiness the rule of law, free speech, and freedom of association have been decimated and violence has exploded in the country making it one of the most dangerous places on the planet. In Africa Cuban involvement in Ethiopia led to mass murder and war crimes bordering on genocide. In Cuba opposition leaders such as The obvious question that presents itself is what are the consequences presently of the ANC's embrace of the Cuban Communist Party to "hold [their] hands against all odds."

Amnesty International has been reporting that human rights defenders are being harassed and improper pressure is being placed on institutions, including the Office of the Public Protector and senior prosecutors. Freedom of expression is under threat in South Africa and laws have been passed restricting the rights of journalists. In 2013 the Index on Censorship made the following observation: "the past five years have seen worrying moves against free expression. These range from verbal threats to legislative measures to the irregular arrest of a journalist." On May 30, 2014 the Committee to Protect Journalists reported on another structural threat to a free press in South Africa: "Freedom of expression advocates in South Africa are concerned that the new Ministry of Communications, announced by President Jacob Zuma when he unveiled his cabinet on May 25, will compromise the independence of the public broadcaster and serve as a propaganda office."

The takeover of the media by the government and the ruling party while restricting freedoms of the press and of expression is an important step on the road to taking on Castroism's totalitarian model. Thankfully, in South Africa there is a vigorous civil society resisting these moves, but the fact that the ruling party sees in the Communist Party of Cuba an example to follow should be of great concern to democrats and human rights defenders.

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