Mandela’s best friend in Latin America was Fidel Castro

South African leader defended his admiration for Cuban president

Mandela with Castro, in Matanzas, Cuba in 1991.
Mandela with Castro, in Matanzas, Cuba in 1991.Feliberto CARRIE (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The now late and great Nelson Mandela is being lauded around the world as a hero, and Latin America is no exception.

In July 1998, a 19-gun salute welcomed the South African leader upon his arrival at Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport where then-Argentinean President Carlos Saúl Menem awaited him. In one of three speeches he gave on that visit, Mandela said that “Argentina’s difficult past” had served as an “inspiration” for his fight against apartheid.

In February, one of his daughters, Zenani Dlamini, 55, was appointed as South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina.

But if there was one country in the region where Mandela left his greatest mark it was Cuba. And Mandela felt more at ease during his meetings with Fidel Castro than any other leader. In 1991, just a few months at he was released from Robben Island prison, Mandela met for the first time with Castro; it was a visit that was criticized by people in South Africa as well as in other nations.

In a video, Mandela hugs Castro, who is dressed in a coat and tie, and calls him “my brother.”

Castro with Mandela

“One thing before we say anything,” Mandela tells Castro as the Cuban leader sits down. “Before we say anything, you must tell me when you are coming to South Africa.

“We have had visitors from a wide range of people. And our friend Cuba, which has helped us in training our people, gave us resources that kept up our struggle, trained our people as doctors and so. You have not come to our country. When are you coming?”

Nodding affirmatively, Castro answers through an interpreter: “I have not visited my South African homeland. I love it as a homeland, as I love you.”

But a persistent Mandela interrupts: “When are you coming to South Africa?”

“I think it will have to be today, I will have to fly back with you,” Castro jokingly answers.

Throughout the years, the friendship that Mandela held for Castro never subsided. In 1994, Castro finally visited South Africa and addressed the country’s parliament.

Mandela never tried to hide his admiration for Castro. When the South African leader received President Bill Clinton in 1998, he told him that he also invited Castro and then-Libyan leader <TB>Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

“I do this because our moral authority tells us that we cannot ignore those who have helped us during the most darkest moments in our country’s history. They gave us resources as well as taught us how to fight and win. And those who have berated me for being loyal to our friends, can, literally, go and throw themselves into a pool.

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