The death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro has closed a complicated chapter. Reaction to his passing was, as you’d expect, mixed: condemned as a tyrant by his own daughter (who fled to the US), he was also lauded, even worshipped, as a saint-like liberator by many developing nations.
For Cubans, there’s no dispute that his human rights record was abysmal: executions were rife while thousands were jailed for daring to call for similar freedoms we take for granted in SA — like basic freedom of expression.
Africans have a more romantic notion of Castro. Certainly, as a symbol, there’s no debate he was instrumental in the demise of apartheid and colonialism.
While the UK and the US, at worst, tacitly supported apartheid, Castro overtly supported Africa’s liberation movements. So Cuba provided military support to African guerrilla forces and committed troops to fight the SA Defence Force’s assault on a free Angola. This led SA to withdraw from Angola and Namibia, hastening an end to minority rule. To the oppressed, Castro was a net positive.
Cuba also supplied doctors to prop up SA’s health-care system — but many were keen to leave anyway, as they earned less than R1,000 per month at home,
This illustrates the point: economically, Cuba was a disaster. But as a symbol for African liberation, Castro was an icon.