Across the developing world, former Cuban President Fidel Castro was viewed as a hero who stood up to the United States and assisted Marxist guerrillas and revolutionary governments around the world. In the 1970s, not many people know that he sent Cuban troops to Angola to support a left-wing government over the initial objections of Russia.
He also helped defeat South African insurgents in Angola and win Namibia’s independence from South Africa in 1990, adding pressure on the apartheid regime which is now widely recognized as a major turning point in the fight against the racist regime that controlled South Africa at that time. After Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, he even went to Cuba to thank Fidel himself.
Here is a transcript of the first meeting between Mandela and Castro:
NELSON MANDELA: Before we say anything, you must tell me when you are coming to South Africa. You see—no, just a moment, just a moment, just a moment.
PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO: [translated] The sooner, the better.
NELSON MANDELA: And we have had a visit from a wide variety of people. And our friend, Cuba, which had helped us in training our people, gave us resources to keep current with our struggle, trained our people as doctors, and SWAPO, you have not come to our country. When are you coming?
PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO: [translated] I haven’t visited my South African homeland yet. I want it, I love it as a homeland. I love it as a homeland as I love you and the South African people.
And this is Fidel Castro speaking in South Africa in 1998:
PRESIDENT FIDEL CASTRO: [translated] Let South Africa be a model of a more just and more humane future. If you can do it, we will all be able to do it.
Mandela and Castro were two very strong minded, very charismatic and perhaps controversially great leaders of the 21st century. It is men like this can inspire real change in the world, and it is important that we study them , learn from their mistakes and strive to have their conviction and passion when it comes to fighting for what you believe in.