After being released from prison in 1990, one of the first things Nelson Mandela did was visit Cuba to express his admiration and respect for Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
“Who trained our people, who gave us resources, who helped so many of our soldiers, our doctors?" Mandela asked Castro during a public appearance in Havana. "You have not come to our country -- when are you coming?"
Fidel Castro responded, "I have not visited my homeland South Africa, but I love it as if it were my homeland."
Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela developed such a close relationship that it’s impossible to forget when speaking about the African leader in Latin America. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 inspired a young Mandela. Later in life, Mandela credited Cuba's military support to Angola in the 1970s and 1980s with playing a role in debilitating South Africa's government enough to result in the legalization of his party, the African National Congress, in 1990.
Nelson Mandela visited Cuba in 1991, months after his release from prison. After his trip to the Communist island he visited Argentina and Brazil -- the beginning of his relationship with Latin American countries that had recently lived under dictatorships, like Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru.
South African business leader and philanthropist Bertie Lubner, in an interview with TeleSUR, explained that it shouldn’t be forgotten that many South African leaders had already visited Latin America in the past while Mandela was in prison.
“Members of the African National Congress party had already visited foreign countries with socialist components like Cuba, East Germany, Russian and in that way embraced socialism, equality,” Lubner explained.
When Mandela arrived to Cuba in 1991, Cubans were summoned onto the streets of Havana to receive the African leader who was awarded the country’s highest honors.
“If you ask any Cuban who Mandela is, they will place him among the greatest men who have ever lived,” Havana journalist Maria Elena Calderín told TeleSur.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president and Fidel Castro was the guest of honor at the inauguration ceremony.
"What Fidel [Castro] has done for us is difficult to describe with words," Mandela said. "First in the struggle against Apartheid he did not hesitate to give us all his help and now that we are free we have many Cuban doctors working here,"
Formal diplomatic relations between Cuba and South Africa began after May 11, 1994, though a friendship already existed between Castro and Mandela.
Cuba also agreed to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18.
For Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday, Fidel Castro sent a congratulatory message to the leader:
“Glory to you, Nelson, who while in prison for 25 years defended human dignity! Slander and hatred could do nothing against your endurance of steel. You were able to resist and, without knowing or looking for it, you became a symbol of what is most noble in humanity. You will live in the memory of future generations, and in your memory the Cubans who died defending the liberty of their brothers in other lands of the world,” Castro wrote Juventud Rebelde, on the island’s state newspapers.
In 1975 Cuba began sending troops to southern Africa to support independence, over 300,000 soldiers set foot on Angolan soil alone, according to Cuban state newspaper Granma.
Nelson Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life in prison in 1962. He spent 27 years in prison. He was released on February 11, 1990.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela won South Africa’s first democratic elections and remained in office until 1999.
With the creation of the South African National Party in 1948, the policy of racial segregation, known as apartheid, went into effect. Mandela became a figure of civil disobedience in 1952 within the African National Congress.
On June 8, Mandela was admitted into a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa and is currently in serious but stable condition. Nevertheless, the 94-year-old leader’s lung infection has gradually worsened.