THE INTERVIEW Sifelani Tsiko
ST: November 25 marks the second anniversary of the death of Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro. What is the greatest legacy that you think Castro bequeathed to Cuba and Africa?
CRR: It is difficult to talk about Fidel Castro in a few lines. Fidel is an icon of the Cuban revolution. He left a permanent mark on the Cuban people, due to his prodigious intelligence, vision, rebellious nature, sense of justice and honour, committed fight for justice and humanism.
He dedicated his life to fight for social justice, to raise a new man educated with a high sense of humanism, sacrifice and solidarity. Cuba today is a shining model because of its social standard of living, with free access to education, health services and social security to all citizens, without any kind of discrimination in spite of being under economic sanctions imposed by US from 1962.
Cuba has developed and given solidarity to countries of the Third World, sending thousands of Cuban doctors as well as giving education to tens of thousands of students from those countries.
That is the legacy of Fidel — to defend our independence at any price. Fidel is an icon of the century, he was a man of a very strong will and with serious conviction about humanism.
His biggest dream was to develop Cuba and to fight for the oppressed people of the world. The revolution that he championed was about improving the living standards of the oppressed through education, healthcare and social security.
The revolution he led was about the people — to develop Cuba and forge strong solidarity with the oppressed people of the world. His concept of the revolution was to fight for ideas, to fight for Cuba, to fight for its development and to fight for the oppressed people of the world.
ST: What are some of the biggest lessons that Cuba, Zimbabwe and Africa can draw from the revolutionary life of Fidel Castro?
CRR: The lesson we can learn most from Fidel is about his sense of freedom and social justice; the sense of solidarity, the sense of internationalism. We are talking about the solidarity of Cuban soldiers who sacrificed their lives to fight for justice in Africa.
Our very first contribution to Africa was not in Angola, but in Algeria. The first Cuban mission of doctors was in Algeria. So for Fidel, it was solidarity with the oppressed and to support them in terms of education and health services.
ST: Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro contributed both militarily and diplomatically to the liberation struggles on the African continent. Some are arguing that Africa has forgotten about Cuba. Do you think Africa is doing enough to honour him and to strengthen its relations with Cuba?
CRR: I cannot say that Africa has forgotten about Cuba. We have excellent relations between Cuba and Africa. What I think we need to do more, is to teach the new generation about the legacy of Fidel, the history of the solidarity between the peoples of Cuba and Africa.
We need to teach the new generation about the history. They need to know that the freedom and independence they are enjoying was because of the sacrifices that Fidel made together with the freedom fighters in Africa.
A lot of people paid a heavy price for Cuba and Africa to secure freedom and independence. So its not possible to just sweep away the relations between Cuba and Africa. Our roots are in Africa. A lot of people in Cuba came from Africa. We have a strong bond. African descendants who came as slaves fought for the independence of Cuba and Fidel used to say we are paying our debt with Africa.
The older generation like me in their 50s, knows about this history and we now need to teach the new generation about it, to help them understand where we are coming from.
ST: Some say Africa has forgotten Cuba which contributed so much to the liberation of Africa. To what extent is this true? What do you think needs to be done to strengthen relations between Cuba and Africa?
CRR: We cannot say that Africa has forgotten about Cuba because of the solidarity we get from African countries in various forums. We have the solidarity of all African countries in our battle against the blockade. All African countries support Cuba in its fight against the blockade at the United Nations. With all this, I cannot say that Africa has forgotten about Cuba. That is not true.
ST: How can you describe relations between Zimbabwe and Cuba? What do you think needs to be done to strengthen ties between Zimbabwe and Cuba?
CRR: The relations between Zimbabwe and Cuba are excellent without any doubt. The new Government has excellent ties with us. It has comrades that we have worked with for a long time.
We have strong relations with the President and we keep strong ties with everyone in the Government. Zimbabwe always stands with Cuba in all bilateral and multilateral forums. Yes, its true, we need to do more to develop our ties. We are working to improve our ties and we have a number of programmes on that.
We have the strongest cooperation in the field of health, which dates back to 1987. We have a medical brigade in Zimbabwe. Every three years we rotate and bring new teams. I think we can do more; there is scope to do more to strengthen ties in various sectors.
We are trying to do more, for example in tourism. We can also do more in sport. Improving sporting cooperation is one of my dreams before my tenure ends. There is great possibility to improve cooperation in tourism and sports.
ST: Cuba under Commandant Fidel Castro managed to achieve high quality public healthcare, as well as life expectancy, child immunisation and literacy systems that compare favourably to those of developed nations. Could you tell us more about how Cuba is helping Zimbabwe and Africa to achieve the same?
CRR: It’s true that Cuba has become an important reference point in terms of achievements in education and health services. First of all, we have the political will. From the beginning of the revolution in 1959, when it triumphed in 1959, we placed greater focus on education.
Fidel spearheaded a campaign against illiteracy. Teams reached out to remote rural schools to teach young people in primary and secondary schools. It was a massive campaign. Our strong education policy gave us an opportunity to develop the island. We don’t have illiteracy and everybody is going to school from primary to university free of charge, even up to now. It will continue like this.
There is also greater focus on free access to health, clean water and electricity. Cuba has a comprehensive policy on this. Through literacy campaigns, people can read the news about the need for clean water, electricity and good health. So most people try to understand their environment. I think Zimbabwe and most African countries must put more resources on education of the people and health.
ST: Cuba has become a strategic partner for Zimbabwe and Africa in various multilateral forums. What is your message to the strong bond of solidarity between Cuba and Zimbabwe and the African continent?
CRR: We have to strengthen our solidarity. Here in Zimbabwe, we have the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association, and this is the framework of our people-to-people exchanges. We have in Zimbabwe more than 3 000 people who have graduated in Cuba who are serving in different social and economic sectors of Zimbabwe.
We have the Cuban community here in Zimbabwe; we have Cubans married to Zimbabweans, they have children here. We have to continue with these people-to-people exchanges and strengthen our solidarity on various social, economic and political fronts.
We have high-level exchanges, we have high-level Government-to-Government contact. Our interactions are good and Zimbabwe is not a country where
I have to wait for a response. Any time I need a response, I get it immediately.
Cuba is a sister country of Zimbabwe; it’s a friend. We share a lot of common things. I’m African and whenever I move around Harare, people identify me as part of their own. Most people I meet in town say I have a brother, a sister who is studying in Cuba. All this shows how closely we are connected.
We are going to have a meeting to elect a new committee to run the Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association. We need to keep the legacy of Fidel and the Cuban revolution alive. We need to continue to strengthen the bonds that exist between Cuba and Africa alive. We must keep Cuba — Africa relations alive.
ST: Are there any events to commemorate the life of the Cuban revolutionary icon — Commandant Fidel? If so, what will be the major highlights.
CCR: We are organising a holy service or a mass on Sunday November 25 in honour of Fidel Castro at the Arrupe Jesuit University in Mount Pleasant, here in Harare.
We want to pay tribute to Fidel and to celebrate his life and ideas. We want to celebrate his exemplary leadership and excellent ideas and humanist philosophy. He is a constant reference for us. Fidel did not die, his ideas, internationalism and humanism are still here with us, they are still alive. He is a constant presence to us.
ST: How is life going for Cubans after Fidel? Cuba is planning a series of potentially far-reaching changes to its new constitution, which is set to recognise the free market and private property. Could you tell us briefly about these changes?
CRR: This year, we have elected a new president and as you know, we have a national debate to reform the constitution. It’s a popular debate. More than seven million people have participated in that debate. We have collected more than one million opinions seeking the modification of the constitution. This process started on 13th August, on Fidel’s birthday and the process ended on the 15th of November 2018.
Next year, we will have a referendum to approve the new constitution. The majority of the people want to keep the socialist system. They want us to keep socialism as a system of developing the country, but to improve it to meet some of the changing political and economic needs of our country.