The Cabinet has strongly defended the government’s R50 million humanitarian aid to Cuba after the Pretoria high court temporarily halted it earlier this week.
In a statement on Friday (25 March) after its meeting on Wednesday, the Cabinet said South Africa’s “bonds of friendship” with Cuba are rooted in the Southern African region’s struggle for liberation.
Cabinet defends R50m Cuba donation
“Were it not for the selfless intervention of the Cubans in Southern Africa over three decades, it would have taken far longer to liberate this region from colonial oppression. Former President Nelson Mandela understood this, which is why Cuba was the first country outside the continent Madiba visited upon his release from prison in 1990,” the Cabinet said.
The R50 million donation has sparked controversy amid concerns that South Africa’s declining economy needs the funds more. The high court issued the interim interdict following an application by civil rights group AfriForum.
“We are pleased that we have managed to stop this unlawful and shameful donation in its tracks. We are now optimistic that our review application will succeed in making a final end to the matter. AfriForum pledges to continue its fight against outrageous and wasteful expenditure which is squandering taxpayers’ money,” the group’s Campaign Officer for strategy and content Reiner Duvenage said after the ruling.
AfriForum and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) will return to court in about two weeks’ time to argue the group’s main application to review the donation.
According to the Cabinet, Cuba made “monumental sacrifices” to help African liberation movements while under a United States-imposed economic embargo, which crippled its economy for decades.
“Cuba’s economic crisis has become untenable and the Cuban government is in need of assistance. Mexico, Bolivia and Russia are among the countries which have provided humanitarian aid to ease the island’s worst economic crisis in decades,” it added.
“Cuba has continued to consistently provide medical and other assistance to South Africa in the post-1994 period, most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is our moral obligation to show solidarity with the people of Cuba at a time when they are struggling to survive.”
However, the decision to accept Cuban doctors in South Africa sparked similar controversy. Former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize later revealed that the government had budgeted R239 million for the 187 doctors’ salaries and other costs.
Another group of Cuban engineers in the country also drew resistance from civil society groups such as Solidarity, which claimed there were unemployed local engineers who could have been used instead.
However, ties between the two countries remain strong, with the Cabinet joining other organisations in commemorating the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola that took place from 1987 to 1988. Cuba sent its troops in that battle against apartheid’s SA Defence Force, whose loss, according to some historians, hastened the end of apartheid.