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Presidents of Mexico, Ecuador, South Africa and Zimbabwe, but not those of America, Canada or Britain, join Cubans to say goodbye to revolutionary.

With sombre speeches and a thunder of cannon, Havana held a mass eulogy for Fidel Castro on Tuesday night in a ceremony that underscored the polarising influence of the dead Cuban revolutionary.

President Raul Castro, dressed in his military uniform, led the memorial for his brother, who seized power in 1959 and turned the Caribbean island into a bastion of anti-imperialism and a focus of Cold War tensions with the United States.

Ideological allies, including Venezuela’s Nicholas Maduro, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma came in person to say farewell to Castro, who died on Friday aged 90, whilst nations on the other side of the political divide sent lower-ranking representatives.

“We and our self-sacrificing, combative and heroic people say to you: Ever onward to victory,” Castro said in a tribute to his brother.

Castro embraced Maduro, his ideological ally, as the ceremony got underway.

“They could overcome neither Fidel, nor the people of Cuba nor the dreams and hopes of this great nation,” Maduro said in a tribute, chanting a refrain about the iconic revolutionary fending off imperialists that the crowd then finished.

“He fulfilled his mission on this earth,” he added. “Few lives have been so complete, so bright. He has left unconquered.”

As well as tens of thousands of Cubans, the great and the good of the nation’s cultural and sporting world were also in attendance. Among them was Ana Fidelia Quirot, a two-time world 800m champion, who arrived in the colours of the national athletics team.

She recalled how Castro had visited her bedside every day while she was recovering from a life-threatening accident. “In my toughest moments he was always there for me,” she said. “I have come to honour an exceptional humanist. He may not be here physically but he will stay in my heart.”

A group of elderly veterans paused on their way to the square to share reminiscences and sentiments as chants of “Viva Fidel!” resounded.

Eighty-year-old Armando Vasquez fought for Castro in the Sierra Maestra in the early days of the revolution. “He was like a father. When he gave an order you knew you could do it, because he had already showed that it could be done.”

Another pulled out his wallet and showed the Castro photograph he keeps inside. “Look at this. I don’t keep a picture of my wife or daughter. That’s how much Fidel means to me,” said Gilberto Gonzalez. “We Cubans have been privileged to have a leader like this.”

Sandra Calvo – a Cuban-Mexican resident – arrived with her sister Patricia, pushing her 11-month-old son who was holding a Cuba flag. “It’s the end of an era but something more than that,” she said.

“I am a graduate of political science and I can’t think of any case where the loss of a former president has generated so much genuine sadness. People aren’t forced to come here. They want to respect him and his achievements. There aren’t many countries where people can become doctors and philosophers regardless of their economic position.”

Raul Castro closed the rally with a speech thanking world leaders for their words of praise for his brother, who he called the leader of a revolution “for the humble, and by the humble.”

Earlier in the day, lines stretched for hours outside the Plaza of the Revolution, the heart of government power and the place where Castro delivered fiery speeches to mammoth crowds after he seized power.

In Havana and across the island people signed condolence books and an oath of loyalty to Castro’s sweeping May 2000 proclamation of the Cuban revolution as an unending battle for socialism, nationalism and an outsize role for the island on the world stage.

Tribute sites were set up in hundreds of places across the island as the government urged Cubans to reaffirm their belief in a socialist, single-party system that in recent years has struggled to maintain the fervour that was widespread at the triumph of the 1959 revolution.

Many mourners came on their own accord to Havana but thousands were sent in groups by the communist government, which still employs about 80% of the working people in Cuba despite the growth of the private sector under Raul.

Cuban state media reported that an urn containing Castro’s ashes was being kept in a room at the defence ministry where Raul Castro and top Communist party officials paid tribute the previous evening.

Inside the memorial thousands walked through three rooms with near-identical displays featuring the 1962 Alberto Korda photograph of the young Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains, bouquets of white flowers and an array of Castro’s medals against a black backdrop, framed by honour guards of soldiers and children in school uniforms. The ashes of the 90-year-old former president did not appear to be on display.

Signs read: “The Cuban Communist party is the only legitimate heir of the legacy and authority of the commander in chief of the Cuban Revolution, comrade Fidel Castro.”

“Goodbye commander. Your ideas remain here with us,” 64-year-old retiree Etelbina Perez said between sobs, dabbing at her eyes with a brown handkerchief. “I feel great pain over his death. I owe my entire life to him. He brought me out of the mountains. I was able to study thanks to him.”

The White House announced on Tuesday that Obama would not send a presidential delegation. Instead, the United States will be represented by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief diplomat at the US embassy in Havana, and Ben Rhodes, an Obama aide who represented the United States in 18 months of secret talks that led to detente.

African leaders included Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Mugabe, 92, himself a former Marxist guerrilla who has led Zimbabwe as prime minister or president since 1980 despite financial and health crises, praised Fidel Castro’s government for having trained thousands of Zimbabwean doctors and teachers.

“Fidel was not just your leader. He was our leader and the leader of all revolutionaries. We followed him, listened to him and tried to emulate him,” Mugabe told reporters as he arrived in Havana. “Farewell, dear brother. Farewell, revolutionary,” he said.

Instead of welcoming its first woman president, the world’s richest and most influential democracy has sent out the frightening message that strong men still rule the world despite the little chinks in the patriarchal armour that we’ve seen in recent years. 
 
Eight years ago when Hilary Clinton ran against Barack Obama as the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, we learned that America was more accepting of a black, than of a woman president. Banners such as “she could not satisfy her husband, how can she satisfy America?” served as a reminder that misogyny in the USA runs deeper than even the legacy of slavery.    
 
The former first lady, who went on to become Secretary of State during Obama’s first term, worked for a more egalitarian world under a president raised and surrounded by women in his personal life, and genuinely respectful of them in his professional life.
 
Polls predicted an easy landslide for Clinton in the fight against the brash and bragging Donald Trump, whose combination of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny left even fellow Republicans distancing themselves from this candidate.
 
Winds of change had finally started to shake the deeply patriarchal roots of western politics. Angela Merkel in Germany had risen to become one of the most respected leaders in modern times. In the UK, Theresa May took over from David Cameroon after the woeful Brexit referendum. Women in high places seemed to be the growing trend.

So where did it go so wrong? The answer is simple, and it’s a wake- up call to the rest of the world as we rev up for the Post 2015 era with its much vaunted Sustainable Development Goals, including goal five – gender equality. 
 
Americans, and the world at large, are still far from ready to embrace women in leadership. They are still more comfortable with sexual predators who treat women as objects and conquests than with intelligent, capable women who have actually proved their ability to lead.
 
Watching Donald Trump excuse his “locker room” banter, caught on TV, and leading to a string of accusations by former women employees, reminded me of South Africa’s President Zuma wriggling out of a rape trial on the eve of his election in South Africa in 2009. Both realised they had behaved badly in relation to the emerging trends and norms in their countries. But both smiled snugly in the realisation that it would all blow over in no time.
 
Indeed Americans, it turned out, were more “concerned” about the E Mail storm-in-a-tea-cup brewed by the FBI over Hilary Clinton, than the fact that Trump openly admitted to sexual assault – “you can do that when you are a celebrity.”     
 
According to the Associated Press, “Trump won by dominating among white voters, especially non-college-educated men, trumping Clinton's coalition of women, minorities and young people.. Tuesday's election produced the largest gender gap since the exit poll began: The gender gap for Clinton - the difference between the number of men who voted for her and the number of women who voted for her - hit 13 percentage points.” Of course a sizeable chunk of mostly white, working class women voted for Trump. As Franz Fanon might have observed, the propensity of the oppressed to internalise their own oppression is as old as history itself.
 
Clinton largely managed to hang on to the youth vote crucial to Obama eight years ago. The sad thing, both in the US elections and in Brexit, is that older generations are voting for a world that younger generations do not want. The gender and the age gap tell us that the “strong men rule, okay!” is not what a large percentage of the population wants, but it is a hard nut to crack. For the record: Hilary Clinton won the popular vote but not the number of electoral college votes needed to clinch the presidency.
 
America, and the world on which it has so much influence, must now brace for a roll back on hard won gains – for women in employment (Trump is on record as saying women should not work); child care; choice of termination of pregnancy, and gay rights, among a host of others. The changing public perception of the role of women, so crucial to change, will also take a knock.
 
When Hilary Clinton occupied the White House as first lady she once famously declared that she had not taken the job in order to bake cookies. She bore the pain of a philandering husband almost impeached for his conduct while in office, but refused to be a victim, using her unique vantage point to build a public profile that served her well in two bids for the top job.
 
Michelle Obama, a Princeton and Harvard Law graduate and successful professional in her own right, also raised the profile of first lady to one of equal partner.
 
Melania Trump, the third wife of the business mogul, best known for plagiarizing one of Michelle Obama’s speeches, will now be the nation’s first lady. Like Zuma’s several wives and concubines, the message is that the women who surround strong men are like ornaments in the background. Sex and scandal become the flip side of the coin to power, money and corruption.  Beneath the rhetoric of equality, patriarchy is still having the last laugh.

  • Colleen Lowe Morna is CEO of Gender Links. This article is written in her personal capacity.

 
Colleen Lowe Morna
CEO, Gender Links
9 Derrick Avenue
Cyrildene, Johannesburg
South Africa 2198
Phone: 27 11 622 2877
Fax: 27 11 622 4732
www.genderlinks.org.za
Facebook www.facebook.com/GenderLinks
Twitter: @Genderlinks 

On 08 November 2016, SANGONeT attended the launch of the broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) ICT Sector Council at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Johannesburg.

Organised by the Department of Telecommunications & Postal Services, the event aimed to officially launch the B-BBEE ICT Sector Council which is tasked with monitoring the transformation of the ICT sector by facilitating the implementation of the B-BBEE sector code in South Africa.

The B-BBEE Sector Council, which has diverse representatives from government, ICT sector, women, youth and organised labour, will measure the progress made by the ICT sector.

In his key note address, Department of Telecommunications & Postal Services Minister, Dr Siyabonga Cwele said “the launch of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) ICT Sector Council marks another achievement that we are chalking up as we aggressively implement the NDP”.

“The Council is tasked with broadening the meaningful participation of blacks, women, youth and people with disabilities in the ICT sector - not just as consumers but also as entrepreneurs and content producers. It also has to measure the progress we are making as a country towards an inclusive digital economy”, added Dr Cwele.

Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Commissioner, Zodwa Ntuli said “the Council aims to eradicate fronting, misalignment and inconsistent interpretation”.

The launch of the B-BBEE ICT Sector Council also follows the gazetting of the B-BBEE sector code which took place on Monday, 07 November 2016. In 2015 Trade and Industry Minister, Rob Davies issued a gazette that requires all sector codes to be aligned with the amended B-BBEE codes.

“B-BBEE Sector Council is the custodian of the B-BBEE ICT Sector Code”, emphasized B-BBEE Sector Council Chairperson, Cllr Nokuzola Ehrens.   

To read more about the B-BBEE Sector code, refer to http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/40407_gon1387.pdf

Phiroshaw Camay (1947 – 2016)

Phiroshaw Camay, who died last week, was probably my closest friend and comrade for more than three decades. We first met in 1982, during trade union unity talks that ultimately led to the formation of labour union federation Cosatu in 1985.

He was then the general secretary of the Council of Unions of South Africa (Cusa) and I an organiser for the Orange-Vaal General Workers Union, based in Vereeniging.

PC, as he was affectionately known, became interested in trade unions while he was working as a librarian in the Johannesburg City Council. He rose through the ranks to become the leader of Cusa and thereafter the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu), and a major figure in the wider trade union movement. He played a leading role in the trade union unity talks but Cusa, influenced more by the thinking of the Pan Africanist Congress and the Black Consciousness Movement, did not join the largely ANC and Freedom Charter-aligned unions that constituted Cosatu at its birth in 1985.

But in 1989, PC resigned from Nactu after failing to get the federation to support the Harare Declaration, in which the ANC set the terms for negotiations with the then Nationalist Party that ultimately culminated in the 1993 settlement and the 1994 first nonracial and democratic elections in South Africa. His view was that the federation he led could not ignore major political developments that were going to affect the future of the country.

Deeply disappointed, he decided with a few others to form the Co-operative for Research and Education (Core) in 1990, a nongovernmental organisation he led since then, through thick and thin. Even when the funding environment became tough after 1994, and especially in the past decade, he managed to hold Core together.

Many were unaware that part of the reason Core stayed afloat was the fact that he took a big cut in salary so as not to have to lay off staff, a measure undoubtedly influenced by his days in the union movement and the resultant sympathy for workers.

To his credit, PC never showed any interest in getting into government or the corporate sector after 1994. With his experience and skills he could have earned a big salary, enjoyed great perks and led a comfortable life, as did so many other former trade unionists. No, he consistently stuck to trying to build a strong civil society, especially in light of the evident neglect of it by the ANC government after 1994.

Somebody on Facebook said she had never in all the years heard him talk ill of people. She was right. Try to drag him into slandering somebody, no matter who it was, and you would fail. But in a discussion of ideas and organisations and the important issues of the day, you would hear a lot from him. And though he never suffered fools gladly, he also never once that I can recall attacked or insulted people.

At a personal level he was always warm, approachable and dignified. There was a discernible equanimity he seemed to possess, which benefited him immensely. I never saw him really angry. We have lost a great man who passed away far too soon at the age of 69, the result of complications following heart surgery.

  • Ebrahim Harvey, political writer, analyst and author, Mail & Guardian. 

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