How Far We Slaves Have Come by Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for May. The excerpts below are from speeches the two revolutionaries gave on July 26, 1991, to tens of thousands in Matanzas, Cuba. Mandela, president of the African National Congress, was the central leader of the revolutionary democratic movement that overthrew apartheid in South Africa. Castro and the Cuban Revolution sent hundreds of thousands of volunteer fighters to help defeat South Africa’s invasions of Angola. Copyright © 1991 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
[W]e are moved by your affirmation of the historical connection to the continent and people of Africa.
Your consistent commitment to the systematic eradication of racism is unparalleled.
But the most important lesson that you have for us is that no matter what the odds, no matter under what difficulties you have had to struggle, there can be no surrender! It is a case of freedom or death!
I know that your country is experiencing many difficulties now, but we have confidence that the resilient people of Cuba will overcome these as they have helped other countries overcome theirs.
We know that the revolutionary spirit of today was started long ago and that its spirit was kindled by many early fighters for Cuban freedom, and indeed for freedom of all suffering under imperialist domination.
We too are also inspired by the life and example of José Martí, who is not only a Cuban and Latin American hero but justly honored by all who struggle to be free.
We also honor the great Che Guevara, whose revolutionary exploits, including on our own continent, were too powerful for any prison censors to hide from us. The life of Che is an inspiration to all human beings who cherish freedom. We will always honor his memory. …
It was in prison when I first heard of the massive assistance that the Cuban internationalist forces provided to the people of Angola, on such a scale that one hesitated to believe, when the Angolans came under combined attack of South African, CIA-financed FNLA, mercenary, UNITA, and Zairean troops in 1975.
We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defense of one of us.
We know also that this was a popular action in Cuba. We are aware that those who fought and died in Angola were only a small proportion of those who volunteered. For the Cuban people internationalism is not merely a word but something that we have seen practiced to the benefit of large sections of humankind.…
The crushing defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale was a victory for the whole of Africa!
The overwhelming defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale provided the possibility for Angola to enjoy peace and consolidate its own sovereignty!
The defeat of the racist army allowed the struggling people of Namibia to finally win their independence!
The decisive defeat of the apartheid aggressors broke the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressors!
The defeat of the apartheid army was an inspiration to the struggling people inside South Africa!
Without the defeat of Cuito Cuanavale our organizations would not have been unbanned!
The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today!
There is no doubt that all the political leaders are talking about social justice and the redistribution of wealth; that is not lacking. But I asked myself: Where did injustice come from? Where did inequality come from? Where did poverty come from? Where did underdevelopment come from? Where did all these calamities come from, if not from capitalism? Where did colonialism come from, if not from capitalism? Where did neocolonialism and imperialism come from, if not from capitalism? It would seem that the creators of heaven and earth are to be blamed for the existence of poor people and that the social system has nothing to do with it, that capitalism has nothing to do with it. It’s incredible! This is the language, this is the mentality, this is the doctrine.
To want to resolve these problems through capitalism, in a world that has been divided between extremely rich capitalist countries and the majority of extremely poor countries — precisely as a consequence of capitalism, colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism — is an incredible illusion. … It’s like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. …
We are internationalists, we are not narrow nationalists or chauvinists. We have shed our blood in other parts of the world, such as in Latin America and Africa. As Mandela recalled, for each person who went on internationalist missions, there were ten who volunteered to go. … The blood of the Angolans was our blood, the blood of the Namibians is our blood, and the blood of the South Africans is our blood! Humanity’s blood is our blood! [Applause]
Our ideas go beyond chauvinism or narrow nationalism. Our ideas extend beyond all borders. We live in the world that was given to us and we are fighting for a better world. Our minds, our intelligence, and our hearts are prepared for a much better world, for a superior world, for a world such as that desired by Marx and Engels, where men act as brothers to each other rather than preying on each other like wolves.
Capitalism is the greatest creator of wolves in human history, and imperialism has not only been the greatest creator of wolves but also the greatest wolf that has ever existed.
We who come from way back, who were conquered, who were exploited, and who were enslaved throughout history, what marvelous ideas we can defend today; what just ideas we can uphold! And we can think in Latin American and even world terms.
How far we slaves have come! [Applause]