Mandela and Castro? BFFs?

I filed this under my “Bet You Didn’t Know” category because…well…I sure didn’t know!! Let’s start with the briefest of backgrounds to make sure memories are refreshed.

Nelson Mandela is an anti-apartheid activist, politician, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of South Africa. He spent 27 years in jail for fighting against the apartheid system. He is an international presence known for speaking for the rights of the oppressed and he is known domestically (South Africa) for programs combating HIV/AIDS and poverty.

Fidel Castro is the Communist revolutionary that overthrew the Batista’s government and installed himself as Prime minister of Cuba. He’s a guerilla fighter that worked with Che Guevara and has also spent time in prison for his actions. Internationally, he’s probably most associated with either the Cuban Missile Crisis or the CIA’s attempts on his life using exploding cigars. Domestically (Cuba) he is known for pursuing environmentally friendly technology and being strongly anti-racism.

Each man has a very particular and iconic status in the world. Mandela is generally associated with morality, freedom and fighting for the underdog. Castro is generally viewed as a militant Communist with absolute control over his people and hating the United States.

I’m not about to start analyzing or judging either man. There is so much more to each one than can be summed up with a glance at the day’s headlines. I’m just looking at the interesting fact they’re pals and why.

Given our generalized opinions of each man, there is no way we might think they’d run in the same circles let alone be fast friends and supporters of each other. So let’s take a look….

Mandela has spent his life fighting against apartheid in South Africa and trying to bring equality to his people. Castro also has strong anti-aparthied sentiments and overthrew Batista’s regime because his people were suffering under governmental oppression. After being released from prison and restarting his fight for freedom, Mandela met Castro in Cuba. Why? Mandela admired Castro’s 26th of July Movement during the Cuban Revolution. He used information from people such as Castro, Mao and Che Guevara. He even credits Castro as his inspiration for starting the Umkhonto we Sizwe (the militant anti-apartheid group he co-founded before being arrested).

What about Castro? Castro has not devoted his life merely to Cuba. He also helps other countries when faced with oppressive governments. In the case of South Africa, Castro was very outspoken about his dislike of apartheid and his feelings against racism. Castro also sent troops to Angola to assist in the fight against South Africa.

Mandela visited Castro in Cuba, joining him for 26th of July celebrations and, in turn, Castro was present at Mandela’s inauguration. These two men that the world generally puts on opposite ends of the spectrum, would actually be more appropriately defined using a Venn diagram. Yes, there are key differences but there is also a lot more in common than the world realizes.

Honestly, part of that is probably also due to the fact no one WANTS to notice these things. It goes back to the impression we have of them. How can a Nobel Peace Prize winner, that supports so many powerful causes and has inspired dozens of movies (starring such greats as Sidney Poitier and Morgan Freeman, no less) find himself in the company of a militant Communist dictator whose country has been under an embargo by the U.S. for 50 years because he’s so devious? We have a hard time accepting this scenario.

Part of this can be traced back to media feedings. If everything I hear about Mandela is saintly and everything I hear about Castro paints him as a crazed Commie, of course I won’t be able to reconcile this concept in my mind. However, if we take a step back and look at each man objectively….a different picture emerges. We can see the faults in Mandela and the goodness in Castro.

I wanted to look at this because I feel as though a lot of the conflicts we get caught up in happen this way. We are constantly bombarded by media that, no matter how hard they try, inevitably is bias. We are presented with the popular opinion of our country, because that’s what we have all grown up with. That’s what everyone around the world grows up with. The popular opinion of their coutnries….that’s how culture is created. It’s not always wrong, but it is present and if we can’t recognize that we start to overlook important details.

In this case, I never knew Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro has such a friendship. It never would have occurred to me and I thought it strange when I first came across the information. Then I did some research of my own and realized it really isn’t strange. It makes a lot of sense if I step back and see them as men, instead of seeing them as the icons they are displayed as to the world.


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