Max du Preez

Castro's death reveals our divided world views

2016-12-06 07:56
Fidel Castro (Alex Castro, Cubadebate, AP)

Fidel Castro (Alex Castro, Cubadebate, AP)

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WATCH: Fidel Castro laid to rest

2016-12-05 11:07

Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro has been buriedWATCH

Nasty dictator or glorious revolutionary and humanist?

How South Africans reacted to the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro can tell us a lot about each other’s socialisation, world views and understanding of history and so help us understand each other’s political instincts better.

The message is that we are far apart, and that the divide runs largely along racial lines.

Most black politicians and commentators praised Castro the last week as one of the world’s greatest modern leaders, almost on a par with Nelson Mandela.

Most white politicians and commentators focused on Castro the dictator, the bully communist that had empoverished his country through old-style socialism, an international adventurer who played liberator to other nations while oppressing his own people.

Please note: I’m saying “most”, not “all”.

What does this tell us about us as a people?

My first observation is that those who want to glorify Castro are prepared to ignore his dictatorial behaviour in Cuba itself because for more than four decades he had showed a fat middle finger to America and the West – and he was prepared to pay the price, or rather, he was prepared that his country pay the price for that defiance.

Castro is, in my view, correctly credited with helping force the South African apartheid regime’s forces from Angola and speeding up the independence process in Namibia.

The Cuban forces’ confrontation with the old SADF at Cuito Caunavale in 1987/1988 also undoubtedly contributed to a change in Pretoria’ strategies and helped to force the regime to the negotiating table with the ANC.

That, and his solidarity with South American states in conflict with the US, established Castro’s reputation as an unparalleled freedom fighter and champion of developing countries and the oppressed everywhere.

His fans paint him as a heroic David confronting an evil Goliath.

The mighty US tried its best, through a devastating blockade, countless assassination attempts and many dirty tricks, to force Cuba to toe the line, but Castro stood tall and defied them until the end.

What the Castro fan club doesn’t want to talk about, is that he had banned opposition parties, didn’t allow a free media or free speech and jailed many of his political opponents without trial and even had some of them killed.

In the eyes of his supporters, the fact that Cuba had the highest literacy rate in the world under Castro and free and quality health care for all counted a lot more than his serious human rights violations over a long period of time.

I made a television documentary on Cuba while Castro was still president. We tested these claims and found them to be correct.

We also found that most Cubans outside the small political elite were desperately poor. The Castro government blamed this on the American blockade rather than the orthodox socialist policies.

What this tells me about South Africans who hero-worship Castro is that their anti-Western instincts are stronger than their pro-democratic instincts.

This has long been true of the ANC – an anti-West, pro-East bias has been part of the ANC’s DNA since the 1960s. This phenomenon also explains the ANC’s sympathies with brutal dictators like Robert Mugabe and Muammar Ghadaffi. Both became famous for cocking a public snook at Washington and Europe.

This primordial distrust of the West probably has its roots in the history of slavery and colonialism, especially the European colonial conquest of Africa.

The Cold War years when the Soviet Bloc supported the independence struggles in Africa, including that of the ANC, while the West molly-coddled the apartheid regime must also be a contributing factor.

It is clear that most white South Africans (most, not all) see the US and the West as the gold standard for democracy and freedom and leaders like Castro as little more than brutal dictators. Most Western nations are predominantly white.

Could this possibly be a factor?

But there could be something else at play; something that struck me when I was working in Cuba: pride?

The people of Cuba – from the middle classes down to the poorest peasant – including even those very critical of Castro, were the proudest people I have ever come across.

Proud that the island nation never buckled under the pressure of the biggest superpower right across the sea from them; proud that it went its own way regardless of international isolation and economic ruin.

And that was mainly due to Fidel Castro.

Perhaps that is something black South Africans find very attractive. I certainly do.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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