Nelson Mandela had true friends in Cuba, Libya and the Soviet Union

By David Lethbridge 

Several years ago, during a commemoration of the Sharpeville massacre that had become a turning point in the struggle for freedom in South Africa, I held up in front of the college class I was teaching a book entitled How Far We Slaves Have Come.

On the cover of the book was a photograph of Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro, arm-in-arm in friendship. Several of the students spoke up to say that the photograph must be fake or manipulated, which it was not. In their heads, implanted firmly by the dominant ruling class ideology, was “Mandela Good, Castro Bad.”

By this time the West had almost entirely appropriated Mandela. They had stripped him of who he really was. They, who had so recently despised him and called him a terrorist, now turned him into a hero – their hero. As the South African journal The African Communist put it: “All the failing Western politicians (Mitterand, Clinton, Major) are seeking out some of the Mandela magic, hoping it will rub off on them.”

The truth, which the West was in pains to hide, was that Mandela was an intimate friend of Joe Slovo, the leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP); that the African National Congress (ANC) which Mandela led was part of a triple alliance with the SACP and COSATU, the national trade union organization; and that Mandela was an officer in Umkhonto weSizwe, the People’s Army, and an advocate of the armed struggle.

Indeed, as soon as Mandela was freed from Robben Island prison, he went to see his friends. Not the Western leaders who had done so much to support the fascist regime that had imprisoned him and now wanted, most hypocritically, to pretend to be his brothers – but his real friends, those who had worked and fought to set him free.

It was in a speech in revolutionary Angola that he thanked their people for helping to train young South Africans in armed struggle, and it was there too that he stated his intention to visit and to thank the Soviet Union. Mandela went on to see his friends – Qaddafi in Libya, Castro in Cuba and Arafat in Palestine.

Mandela held a particular affection for Palestine. “All of us need to do more in supporting the struggle of the people of Palestine for self-determination,” he said, adding, “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” It was Mandela’s opinion that South Africans, now that they had won their freedom, would be “less than human” if they did not now struggle for justice and liberation for Palestine. Everywhere he went, in speech after speech, Mandela spoke out against Israeli aggression and for the liberation of Palestine.

Mandela knew what apartheid was. For most of his life he lived within its exploitive and racist structures. He was imprisoned by it. He also knew that the Zionist state of Israel was among the strongest supporters of apartheid in South Africa and that it trafficked in arms with the fascist leadership at Pretoria.

Apartheid Israel and apartheid South Africa shared common goals – the violent oppression of the Indigenous peoples of the land they had stolen and colonized. During the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) in the US spied on American anti-apartheid militants and organizations and passed on their illegally obtained information to the FBI. Today, in the struggle against apartheid by the Israeli state, the ADL accuses anyone who criticizes Israel of antisemitism and seeks to destroy them economically or politically.

Every day in Gaza, more than ten small children lose an arm or a leg or both legs, often enduring amputation without anesthetic, as a result of the endless and merciless bombing by Israel. Often these sad and wounded children do not even have a mother or father to comfort them because they have been killed in the same bombing that took their little limbs. And increasingly there are no hospitals left to tend to them. One could go on for pages listing the horrors that have been inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli state; but this heartbreaking example must stand for many – too many.

It should come as no surprise, then, that South Africa, remembering Mandela and their own struggle against apartheid and for freedom and sovereignty, should take apartheid Israel to the International Court of Justice and accuse it, justifiably, with genocide against the people of Palestine.

The government of Canada refused to stand with South Africa at the ICJ, just as it has refused to stand with the people of Palestine.

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