22 March 2008

Cuito Cuanavale of the Soul

Double-sized Easter Sunday edition

General Leopoldo “Polo” Cintra Frias (2 pictures) was a member of the “26th July Movement”, was in the Sierra Maestra, is Chief of the Cuban Western Armed Forces, Hero of the Cuban Republic, founder member of the Communist Party of Cuba and a member of its Central Committee. These are by no means all of his distinguishments.

Cde Cintra Frias is the victorious General of Cuito Cuanavale. It is a matter of great relief and pleasure that the implications of the decisive battle that took place twenty years ago are beginning to be more widely understood in South Africa, the biggest beneficiary of this action (see the first link below), and elsewhere in Africa. The battle was planned and executed on a vast scale with great skill, courage and precision. It involved deployment of thousands of troops and the best equipment from Cuba across the Atlantic, and the construction of airfields to achieve command of the air, which was quickly accomplished.

Cuito Cuanavale itself was a small town, more like a village, in the South-Eastern interior of Angola. The Cubans under the overall command of Cintra Frias stopped the SADF at that place, but they put equal resources into creating the infrastructure for, and then deploying, a column from the coast in the West, thus quickly rendering the South African regime’s position utterly hopeless and forcing a withdrawal.

The negotiations between the Cubans and Angolans on the one side, and the South African racist regime with its US allies on the other, were led by the extraordinary Jorge Risquet (in a white shirt in the other picture), himself a veteran of the earliest Cuban military interventions in Africa from 1965 onwards. The net result was that Angola’s freedom was secured, Namibia achieved independence, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the SACP and the ANC were unbanned, and the Kempton Park negotiations began, leading to the “democratic breakthrough” of 1994.

The Cuban intervention happened at a conjuncture that included the actions of the UDF and COSATU inside South Africa, the actions of MK, the diplomatic efforts of the web of ANC offices around the world, the campaigns of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and other such solidarity movements around the world, the educational work of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania, and many other indispensable components of the struggle.

But it was the Cuban military offensive that was decisive, immediate, and irresistible in that crucial moment. For this, and for the blood that they shed and the loved ones that they lost, South Africa owes the Cubans everything.

Now, twenty years later, there is still unfinished business in Southern Africa. It is still as close as South Africa’s border. His Lordship Bishop M B Mabuza, Chairperson of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO), has written an Easter message, the second linked item below.

Illustrating how bad things are in Swaziland, after the recent clothing workers’ strike that was broken by criminally violent police action, Bishop Mabuza writes: “The real tragedy in this is that the terms and conditions under which the women at the factories work under are no longer what is important. The violence has become the story. The fact that the women work for long hours at low pay in dirty and dangerous conditions and cannot make ends meet without resorting to offering sex for money is a shocking indictment on our society.”

Is nationalisation always good? The third item is from the Anti-Privatisation Forum, attacking Eskom, which of course is not privatised. Actually, nationalisation under a bourgeois state will always have to serve the bourgeoisie. Even under socialism, it is likely that there will be struggles in cases where gangster-like formations have infested a state structure (as they did in the Ekhuruleni Metro Police Department under Robert McBride, for example). Such gangster-like closed and self-promoting cliques can hold a country to ransom, just like the Eskom managerial mafia is trying to do at the moment.

Another nationalised entity serving the bourgeois state is the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). It is happy to play a supporting role for the Eskom shysters. Bryan Rostron reports in the Weekender: “An SABC television newscaster delivered a perky, upbeat report about efforts to sort out our electricity crisis as though this was caused by a random freak of nature. Finally, she concluded merrily: ‘Eskom is hoping the general public will come to the party.’ Am I hallucinating?”

Another example of a non-privatised entity being infested by bourgeois interests is that of Witwatersrand University (Wits), where the YCL, SASCO and ANCYL, together constituting the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) are strongly objecting to the appointment of sellout comprador businessman Saki Macozoma as Chairperson of the Wits Council. See the fourth linked item.

This has been a larger-than-usual edition, but there is still, surely, room for some lighter material in keeping with Easter celebrations. The last two items are humourous but with a serious undertow. Xolela Mangcu points out that if you are going to make an escape from someone who “shut up public debate, marginalised rivals and even punished his critics” (Thabo Mbeki), then you should really not complain if the new guy (Jacob Zuma) is a lot more open to debate.

Finally, Guardian (London) journalist Jon Ronson writes of a hilarious but very informative experiment he ran to find out something about the British equivalent of our mashonisas. This was published in the “
comment is free” section of their web site, where you can join in the comments if you wish.

Click on these links and have a Happy Easter:

ANC commemorates the battle of Cuito Cuanavale (324 words)

Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations Easter Statement (1157 words)

APF Statement, Democratic control of energy for all (1265 words)

The undemocratic election of Macozoma as Wits Council Chairperson (437 words)

Argue about anything, Xolela Mangcu, Urban Legend, Weekender (906 words)

Titch, the crunch and me, Jon Ronson, Guardian Comment is Free (800 words)

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