Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro warned of challenges the ANC would face in implementing the contentious Freedom Charter, saying the party should strive towards getting political freedom first before transforming the economy.
This was revealed by former president Thabo Mbeki following Castro’s death at the weekend. He was 90.
Mbeki said he was part of an ANC delegation from Lusaka in Zambia, led by party president Oliver Tambo, who were invited by Castro to the capital city Havana, towards the end of the dark days of apartheid.
Castro had insisted on discussing the Freedom Charter, a precursor to the constitution, which calls for the nationalisation of mines, banks and other commanding heights of the economy.
Castro, who was internationally recognised as a 20th century icon, warned the ANC about the problems it would face in implementing the document, which was adopted at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955.
“Thrice this message came that comrade Fidel was saying let’s be ready to discuss the Freedom Charter. We were a bit puzzled as to why this interest. Anyway, we got there and indeed there was a discussion on that,” Mbeki said in an interview with the SABC.
He continued: “The reason he wanted to discuss the Freedom Charter, he was saying: You see in the Freedom Charter you talk about nationalisation of banks and mines and all of this. Will you have the capacity to do that, and simultaneously defend the revolution, because those property owners and their allies across the globe will then launch a major offensive against you if you do that?
“ ‘Don’t you need, first of all, to win this political victory, entrench yourselves (and) make sure that you’re properly prepared to take on battles of that kind?’”
The ruling party has often been rapped over the knuckles for its slow pace of transforming the economy, leading to criticism by some cabinet ministers and the opposition EFF.
Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas has said the social and political pact reached in 1994 has collapsed and the country’s leaders needed to find a “new social consensus” to transform the economy because continuing on the current trajectory was unsustainable.
Mbeki said Castro was concerned about “the need for the democratic revolution in South Africa to succeed and the importance that we didn’t do anything which might lead to the defeat of that democratic revolution”.
The revolutionary leader met many African leaders during the continent’s struggle against colonialism and the early years of freedom. They included Nelson Mandela, Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso), Muammar Gaddafi (Libya), Patrice Lumumba (DRC), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe).
Mbeki said Castro also quizzed the ANC delegation on its intellectual capacity, and wanted to know whether it had produced any experts, while also sharing notes on challenges the Caribbean Island nation faced after the Castro-led Cuban Revolution toppled the allegedly corrupt regime of former president Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
When contacted for comment, Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga said he had no idea who else was in the ANC delegation or what other issues cropped up in the meeting with Castro.
Political analysts have criticised the ANC’s “lack of courage” in implementing the Freedom Charter, pointing out that the former liberation movement was hell-bent on pleasing all and sundry, to its peril.
On Sunday, Professor Somadoda Fikeni said that when the Soviet bloc collapsed in 1989, the ANC seemed to renege on nationalisation. Zuma has said nationalisation wasn’t the ANC or the government’s policy.
But Fikeni said the ANC lacked the ideological clarity and courage to be decisive on nationalisation.
“For a long time, the ANC looked at what is practical rather than being driven by ideology. They wanted to please all the classes, workers and business. As a result, they ended up in a limbo of undefined space.”
The ANC, Fikeni added, had never really led the process of “defining what our national interests are in a crisp manner”.
Wits University Professor Susan Booysen described the Freedom Charter as a socialist document, saying the ANC had not gone the socialist route because “they made policy compromises in the run-up to 1994”.
“They settled on the capitalist system, which they have been practising since,” said Booysen. “They are walking two ideological tracks (and) it doesn’t work. They are juggling two ideological balls.”
The ANC couldn’t immediately be reached for comment as they were locked in a national executive committee on Sunday.