Speech by Minister Naledi Pandor on the occasion of the Parliamentary Debate on the Cuban doctors in South Africa, 04 March 2021

Speech by Minister Naledi Pandor on the occasion of the Parliamentary Debate on the Cuban doctors in South Africa, 04 March 2021


Honourable Speaker and Deputy Speaker,
Honourable Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Honourable Members,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am pleased to be part of this debate, which reaffirms the moral value of the revolutionary and scientific duty of human solidarity in dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic.


The Republic of Cuba has been a vital embodiment of humanism and international solidarity since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1963. This Cuban solidarity continues a long history of strategic relations between our two nations, inspired by a vision of freedom, anti-racism, anti-apartheid and anti-imperialism.


Madam Speaker, human solidarity in the face of the COVID-19 threat is absolutely necessary for the Global South, where humanity lacks the means to withstand the ravages of this virus and remains vulnerable to a host of other debilitating but preventable conditions.


This solidarity amounts to a moral awakening by the Global South’s humanity to the current compromised human condition which has been shaped by an unfair history of socio-economic and racial exploitation, domination and subordination. Leading by example, Cuba is among the nations of the South fully committed to human solidarity.


Cuba has sent over 3 700 healthcare workers to more than 22 countries around the world to lend a helping hand in their hour of need.


South Africa believes that human solidarity can only find expression within the objectives of building a better Africa and a better world. For us building a better world entails an ethical and moral struggle to fight and correct global injustice characterised by structural conditions of under-development that confront the people of the South.


Cuba has led the way in this lofty cause, and its impact has been particularly felt in the health sector where Latin American, Asian and African nations continue to reap the benefits of Cuba’s medical diplomacy.


Cuban’s leading international health diplomacy is a stark reminder of global inequality and the possibility of re-imagining a better world, if the interests of people are put before profits. By default or otherwise, this humanist vision pricks the conscience of the world through putting international reform of the public health sector to the fore as a matter of human rights.


South Africa and the Republic of Cuba are bonded by a noble history of freedom struggle. The current relations between South Africa and Cuba are morally pedigreed as well as embedded within the doctrine of South-South Relations.


The late great President Mandela acknowledged and extolled the Cuban role in advancing the Agenda of the South during a speech at a banquet in honour of President Fidel Castro of Cuba on the 4 September 1998. On this issue of Cuba, South Africa relations and international solidarity Madiba said.


‘The defeat of apartheid demonstrated what can be achieved when we join hands with purpose and conviction. South Africa is committed to working with Cuba to help build a better life for millions of people across both our continents and beyond’.


As Madiba explained our country is committed to working with Cuba for the attainment of a better world. The Cuban medical brigade working with such acclaimed commitment and dedication to save lives in the hinterland of our country do so in pursuit of this exalted vision of building a better human society.


There is no doubt that our strategic relations with Cuba advance the agenda of building a better Africa and a better world and have considerably benefited our country and our people.


Cuba’s health international solidarity is epitomised by the Nelson Mandela/Fidel Castro Medical Collaboration.


The NMFC programme was established by presidents Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro in 1996 a bilateral agreement between South Africa and Cuba.


The programme was established to address the over-concentration of health personnel in urban areas and in the exclusionary private sector as well as to increase the number of qualified health professionals.


Honourable Members,


Since the arrival of the more than 200 Cuban doctors to help us fight this pandemic in April 2020 there have been rather unfortunate insinuations, misinformation and distortions pertaining to the conditions of their presence in our country.


Excelling in primary health care and prevention, including preventable diseases, the Cuban health care experience has not only buttressed our health system but made a difference to the lives of our people.


Our country has especially benefited from the Cuban expertise and community orientation, which helped in the area of assessing the underlying factors that lead to diseases in communities.


This has gone a long way towards improving South Africa’s primary health care which, the Minister of Health has pointed out, is one of the challenged facts of our health care system.


Under the leadership of President Ramaphosa South Africa has nominated the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialised in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics, which is also known as the Cuban Medical Brigade —- of which there are currently about 3 700 dispatched around the globe in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic — for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.


This was a resolution taken by Cabinet, and a move widely supported by an international community that is aware and appreciative of the noble efforts of this group of professionals whose primary aim is to save human life.


This recognition by our government is pursued alongside our immense gratitude to our own healthcare workers.


Our recognition of the Cuban Medical Brigade is part and parcel of the international solidarity and the South-South relations of which South Africa is part. We therefore call on all South Africans to support this nomination for the recognition of the humane agenda driven by the Cuba.


The African continent itself has been among the greatest beneficiaries of Cuban internationalism, not least in the critical sphere of medical assistance.


Few would forget that members of the Cuban leadership travelled to Algiers to build formal relations with the Algerian National Liberation Front, and the fact that Che Guevara’s trip around Africa in 1963 was a significant turning point in strengthening Cuba’s relationship with liberation movements around the continent.


Building a better Africa and a better world is an imperative of our time for all those concerned with global inequality and the vulnerable conditions of the developing world to poverty, communicable diseases and pandemics such as the COVID-19.


The contribution of Cuba to the Global South and indeed some parts of the Global North in this titanic battle has been nothing short of noble but also a revelation.


Madam Speaker,


Cuba’s selfless pursuit of international solidarity as evidenced by both its support for Africa’s liberation struggle and medical assistance to the developing world represents counter-narrative to the current dominant mode of discourse which seeks to disguise Western interests as the ‘norm’ for international relations.


For this moral stand Cuba has endured irrational sanctions and trade embargo. Its international solidarity has been re-narrativised in negative terms to undermine the humanist impulses that drive its foreign policy orientation.


On moments like this one cannot help recalling the towering words of the late President Mandela on the occasion of his visit to Cuba, which echoed moral rectitude that he epitomised. Among others, President Mandela said:


‘We have come here today recognizing our great debt to the Cuban people. What other country has such a history of selfless behaviour as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa? How many countries benefit from Cuban health care professionals and educators? How many of these volunteers are now in Africa? What country has ever needed help from Cuba and has not received it? How many countries threatened by imperialism or fighting for their freedom have been able to count on the support of Cuba?’


We look forward to the continued selfless contribution of the Cuban people to our country.


I thank you.




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