Tshwane Pretoria
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President Jacob Zuma addressed the official mass memorial service of the late former President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, on Tuesday, in Havana.

The President was among various Heads of State and Government who had been invited to address the special service in Plaza de la Revolucion in the Cuban capital city.

Addressing the mass memorial, he said South Africa had learnt with sadness of the passing of “one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time and one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century”.

“The passing of Comrade Fidel is a painful loss for the South African people. He stood with us in solidarity, supporting our struggle, including the international campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.

“We knew that we could rely on Cuba, a trusted friend and ally of the oppressed,” said the President.

Cuba deployed close to half a million soldiers and officers in Africa, to support the struggles for national independence or against foreign aggression, over 30 years.

In particular, Cuba’s Angolan intervention stands out as the greatest example of international solidarity that changed the course of history, he said.

“… We will remember Comrade Fidel as a great fighter for the ideal that the poor have a right to live in dignity. That is why the Cuban revolution was and still remains an inspiration to South Africa and the world on how to achieve a better life for the poor,” said President Zuma.

Today Cuba has higher health standards than many developed countries. It has sent thousands of its doctors to many parts of the world.

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“South Africa has gained many Cuban doctors in our hospitals and clinics, often in the most remote areas of our country. In addition, many of our youth have qualified as medical practitioners in Cuba and many are continuing to study in this country.

“Cuba had also opened the doors of its schools and universities for the education of many South Africans during our days in exile.”

The President said South Africa admired Cuba’s unique value system, which includes a deep sense of patriotism.

“Go well Comrade Fidel! You have run your race. You have fought a good fight. May your soul now rest in eternal peace,” said President Zuma.

The Presidency said on Tuesday condolence books have been placed at the offices of the President, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria and Tuynhuys in Cape Town, and at the offices of the Premiers throughout the country for members of the public to express their condolences.

Former President Castro’s body was cremated in the early hours of 26 November 2016.

The casket carrying his ashes then lay in state for Cubans to pay homage at the José Martí Memorial in Havana on 28 and 29 November.

From 29 November to 3 December the casket carrying his ashes will travel along a 900 kilometre route to Santiago de Cuba, tracing in reverse the route of the “Freedom Caravan” of January 1959 in which President Castro and his forces took power.

On 3 December at 7pm, a mass gathering will take place at Plaza Antonio Maceo in Santiago de Cuba and on 4 December, the interment of Castro’s ashes will occur at Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, where Cuban national hero José Martí is also buried.