South African President: Castro Was a ‘Progressive Force,’ ‘Embraced Liberty’

South African President Jacob Zuma is seen upon arrival in Harare, Zimbabwe, Thursday, Nov, 3, 2016. Zuma has travelled to neighboring Zimbabwe on state business following the release of a state watchdog report indicating possible South African government corruption linked to him and his associates. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

In a speech to Cuban government officials, South African President Jacob Zuma praised the communist dictator Fidel Castro as someone who embraced the values of “internationalism, liberty, equality and justice.”

Fidel Castro’s death was announced last Friday, with resulting controversy over many world leaders’ praise and mourning of the Cuban dictator. Fidel presided over the island from 1959, following the violent overthrow of his predecessor Fulgencio Batista, to 2008 when his younger brother Raúl Castro took over. During his tenure, Castro was responsible for a variety of

During his tenure, Castro was responsible for a variety of human rights abuses, including the arrest of political dissidents, internment of dissidents and Christians in forced labor camps, extermination of anti-communist opponents through the use of firing squads, and torture of those who did not praise the regime.

Zuma, who is a head of the left-wing African National Congress party, said that the “people and the government of South Africa acknowledged with great sadness the death of one of the great revolutionaries of our time and one of the great heroes of the 20th century.”

He went on to say that “progressive forces around the world should celebrate the life of this anti-imperialist who selflessly fought for those who had been oppressed and exploited.”

Under Castro’s rule, Cubans were not allowed to stay in hotels used by foreigners and were also forced to use a separate currency. While Raúl Castro revoked the hotel rule, most Cubans do not make enough money to afford tourist hotels, and the currency apartheid policy remains in place. There is also practically no access to the internet across the island.

Castro enjoyed a well-documented friendship with South Africa’s revolutionary president Nelson Mandela, who often spoke of how he was inspired by Castro’s role in the 26th of July Movement in 1959, which led to the overthrow of the Batista regime.

During the speech, Zuma added that Mandela admired Castro’s “message to the developing world that lack of education and poverty were not unalterable facts of life.”

Fidel was known to have a special relationship with many African countries due to his support for their decolonization and revolutionary projects abroad. He would regularly send doctors, teachers, and other professionals for “missionary” work across the continent.

Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe also mourned his death in an official statement, saying that he would “mourn the loss of a dear brother” who was “not just a man of words but a man of action.”

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