There are few individuals in the 20th century who had a more profound impact on the world than Fidel Castro, a man loathed by many and loved by most. One of the few Namibians who met Castro is Naanda Shipahu, who studied in Cuba and got the chance to directly interact with Castro as Sam Nujoma’s translator.
Shipahu was one of the first group of students, who were sent to study in Cuba in 1977 when he was 19. In Cuba, they were taught Spanish before being sent to Military School. During his schooling, Castro used to visit the school to advise the learners, remembers Shipahu. In 1984, he was assigned to the office of the Founding President in Luanda, Angola, which was the beginning of a journey that brought him closer to Castro. In his position as the trusted translator for Nujoma and Castro on numerous occasions, Naanda narrates how he interacted with Castro on several occasions as he translated for both Nujoma and Castro. “I met Fidel Castro for the first time at the end of 1978. He came to visit our school in Havana where he usually came to talk to us and motivate us to study hard.
Since then, I started meeting him more frequently together with other leaders after I got assigned to the office of the Founding President in Luanda, Angola.
“As the president’s translator, I then started to know him personally because I was always there when they talked. He spoke to the founding father through me,” said a proud Shipahu. “One of the Cuban policies is based on love for other peace-loving nations, especially those that are under colonial rule to gain independence and freedom. We would go to the Cuban State House with ambassadors and other presidents, including Nujoma, and I would admire how he [Castro] led the meetings.
“He was a charismatic and articulate speaker. I remember him addressing a congress for seven hours without stopping, stammering, reading from any paper and not repeating any anything. And when he stood up to deliver his speech, apart from his deeds, his words were so strong. The tone of his language was enough to send a stern warning to his enemies to come on their knees. It showed just that the man meant business. What he said is what he meant; he was a man of his words.
“I also remember him going to the Earth Summit in Brazil with other leaders. Each head of state was only allocated a minute to deliver a speech. Since they knew him to be a speaker, they gave him three minutes. He stood up and because he knew the speech he prepared would take hours, he only said – “Let hunger die and the human being survive.” The audience was left to unfold.
“I have come to know him as a leader who refused to be manipulated. He was very smart in the way he commanded his troops. He assisted many countries of the world, including Namibia, to get their independence. While countries like the USA, all resorted to military equipment, Castro believed in his patriotic intellectual missiles (the people of Cuba). The people of Cuba are trained to be able to respond when things are no longer good. I remember there was a time he ordered all his people to dig a trench in case of a nuclear attack,” Shipahu narrated. “He was a man of the people and his power was in his people,” said Shipahu.
“He [Castro] made his people understand how the struggle works, and although he came from a wealthy family, he remained humble and served his people and the world at large,” remembered Shipahu.
“The world has lost an irreplaceable cadre, who has helped bring independence to so many countries. If it was not for his help, we as Namibians would not have been here. He gave us a lot and we will continue to follow in his footsteps until the end of time. I consider Cuba as my second motherland and if I could, I would give my life for my hero so he continues leading others.
His death is a sad loss and a heavy load for the entire world. For him, the mission was achieved. So it is up to us to take over from where he left off,” Shipahu said.