The Vice President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Her Excellency Ines Maria Chapman Waugh and a Cuban delegation in South Africa set aside 24 March in honour of fallen Cuban and South African combatants with a ceremony to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale (Cuitavale)
The ceremony, which included a wreath laying, was held at Freedom Park in Pretoria. It was presided over by Waugh, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Michael Masutha, The Chief Executive Officer of Freedom Park, Jane Mufamadi, Deputy Director General of Bilateral Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Comrade Armando Vergara Bueno, Ambassador of Cuba to South Africa, Rodolfo Benitez Verson, Chief of Staff of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, Chief Logistics of the SANDF, Lt Gen Jabulani Mbuli, the retired Major General Keith Mokoape on behalf of South African War Veterans, the Director General of the Military Veterans of South Africa, Mr Motumi, representatives from Umkhonto We Sizwe of the ANC, COSATU and SACP, the Friends of Cuban Society in South Africa and other Cuban collaborators in South Africa.
“Today’s commemoration reminds us of the turning point and total collapse of the apartheid era, as we recall the Cubans who shed pain for the freedom we enjoy today. The gallant fighters we honour today sacrificed their lives for our country with no strings attached; Cubans came to our rescue voluntarily to assist, not as colonisers,” Mufamadi said.
Mapisa-Nqakula said that: “It is crucial that our young generation realise and know the truth about the Battle of Cuitavale and the sacrifice by the Cubans for our nation’s liberation. Today I realised we fought against a common enemy, the Apartheid regime. One-day people who were in support of Apartheid should find in their hearts to form part of this event and take responsibility of their actions. This is not the time to lament about the past, but acknowledgement and appreciation is what is missing from South African people to the Cubans. There is a need to honour the sacrifice of the Cubans; Truth and Reconciliation has not cemented the wrongs committed in the past, there is still a red tape amongst our nation, we are the country that easily forgets our past hence we struggle to continue as one nation in diversity.”
South Africa on 10 January 2012 entered into a cooperation agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba. This agreement was signed on 18th August 2014 and came into force in September 2014.
Mapisa-Nqakula mentioned the Cuban technicians working to maintain South African military vehicles under Project Thusano. “Many South Africans with no knowledge of relations and bilateral agreement between Cuba and South Africa question Operation Thusano and the presence of Cubans working with the SANDF – I would like to clarify that the Cuban presence in South Africa is not due to the possibilities for the Cubans to find jobs in this country but to the current needs of the SANDF, to arrest the decline of our very own Defence Force based upon a diagnosis and prior consultation and analysis with the Defence Council to restore and strengthen defence capabilities.
Appreciation Certificates were handed to a group of 16 Cuban combatants and to 10 South African freedom fighters. Amongst them were Captain Apolinar Anolvis Vera Pons, a Cuban fighter in Angola and Ethiopia and Dikeledi Lovinest Moema from South Africa.