On the eve of its 26th Freedom Day, South Africa welcomed a different kind of guest compared to the 2013 Gupta Waterkloof landing.
A team of 217 Cuban medical experts carrying two important national assets – their national flag and a framed photo of Fidel Castro – landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria. This special visit happened against the backdrop of three notable global developments: the Covid-19 pandemic, fragmentation of the institutions of global governance, and continued sanctions against Cuba by Washington.
It is important to note that Cuba is a tiny island country with a population of 11.4million. However, it has contributed more medical doctors than all of the G7 countries combined. To counter Cuba’s noble global efforts to wage war against Covid-19, Washington is leading a campaign to undermine these efforts. Cuban doctors are labelled “slaves” and “agents of socialism”.
There have been concerted efforts to send home Cuban doctors in Latin America by right-wing governments close to Washington such as in Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia. When the Brazilian government expelled Cuban doctors in 2018, it alleged that they each cost $3100 a month, with 70% of that going to the Cuban government.
Although Cuban doctors were welcomed wholeheartedly in South Africa, there were also efforts to project Cuba as an undemocratic country and one behaving in massive violation of human rights.
The Cuban medical brigades have been dispatched to Wuhan City in China, Italy’s hardest-hit area of Andorra and many countries in Latin America, Europe and Africa.
This selfless action taken by the Cuban government derives from its deep conviction that a successful society requires universal education and health services, compared to a failing health-care system in many developed countries, particularly the US.
In a recent tweet, Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, said: “Shame on you. Instead of attacking Cuba and its committed doctors, you should be caring about the thousands of sick Americans who are suffering due to the scandalous neglect of your government and the inability of your failed health system to care for them.”
While Cuba leads a global war against Covid-19, the US is undermining the effort by withholding its financial contribution to the World Health Organization.
Instead of leading the world in the fight against Covid-19, the US has been accused of “modern piracy” for confiscating 200000 US-made masks in Bangkok that were bound for Germany.
When a British cruise ship with five confirmed Covid-19 cases was denied the right to dock in the US and other ports, Cuba allowed it to dock near Havana. US President Donald Trump recently defied expert advice by suggesting that people infected by the coronavirus should be injected with toxic disinfectant.
Since the inception of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement in 1959, Cuba endured ongoing sabotage, sanctions and economic blockage from the US.
A free health-care system has been a pillar of Cuba’s successful revolution. The medical team that arrived at Waterkloof Air Force Base evoked nostalgic dreams deferred for many people.
They came at a time when the revolutionary lexicon of solidarity, free health care and education was being replaced by corruption, cronyism and state capture. The Cuban state was captured to provide health care to all, while the post-apartheid state was captured to liberate mainly the elite.
More importantly, Cuba teaches the world that medical personnel are worth more than sophisticated weaponry.
* Monyae is the director at the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
By David Monyae