By Bill Saidi
SOMEWHERE in the profiles of either Fidel Castro or Ernesto Che Guevara was a call made after the Cuban revolution in 1959 for “a new man” to fulfil the aspirations of the revolution.
This included women, but this was at a time when the feminist movement had not flowered in full.
“Man”, in the language of the period, meant people.
The women of Cuba, who took part in the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista as courageously as their men, knew they were included.
Cuba went through hell, some people have said, before it settled into the semblance of a placid transition from dictatorship to socialist democracy — or democratic socialism: take your pick . . .
There were Cubans so discontented with Fidel Castro’s style of socialism they fled the country — mostly to the United States.
Some of the discontent was fuelled by a fall in living standards.
Exacerbating it all was the economic measures applied against Cuba by the US.
Today Cuba is still socialist, but two things have changed: Fidel Castro is no longer in charge — his brother, Raul is. Illness overtook Fidel.
There has been a thaw in the relations with the US.
The younger Castro must take credit for it.
Fidel signalled his assent — it had to be that way.
Standards of living have undergone changes, somewhat mostly for the better.
Whether the “new man” is responsible for all the transformation is a matter of speculation.
The fact is that Cuba has changed, albeit 53 years after the revolution.
The island is not a capitalist paradise — not yet.
But the return of the straitjacket Marxism-Leninism advocated by the early Communist Party of Cuba has been replaced by what the optimists would describe as a carefully measured softening of the thrust of the hammer and sickle on the human condition.
If ordinary Cubans are now generally more contented with their lives than they were before and can say truthfully that the new system places no barriers to the achievement of their potential, it would be accurate to characterise the island as “the new Cuba”.
The few stories I have perused all portray a country clawing its way back to the prosperity that had been planned for it after the revolution.
Clearly, to even hint at the return to the capitalism of the Batista era would be ridiculous.
The Communist Party is still Marxist-Leninist.
But Raul Castro has promoted the idea that “change” is not a dirty word.
Cuba has made many friends in Africa.
It has helped many countries, particularly in improving their medical services.
There was one incident which must have made the officials in Havana wince: two young doctors sent to Zimbabwe a few years ago announced suddenly, to an independent newspaper, they were defecting to the West.
There was embarrassment and anger all around.
There are still African countries which cling to the Marxist-Leninist kind of socialism as if perestroika and glasnost had not occurred in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev.
Russia itself is certainly not as communist as it was during the era of the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, under Vladimir Putin, nobody can categorically proclaim Russia a democracy as we all understand that system to be.
But the change is there: There have been demonstrations against Putin in Moscow.
Nobody, so far, has been shot during this public display of discontent.
Change has also come to South Africa, which the ANC governs in coalition with the Communist Party.
There is a chance of a “new South African” emerging on the scene.
Jacob Zuma has appointed a woman to head the police force.
His previous appointments had proved they were not the “new South Africans” expected to emerge after 1994.
Nobody called them tsotsis.
But I am sure some people thought of them that way.
Zuma seems to have hesitated before finally kicking them out — this didn’t do his reputation any good, I am sure.
Unfortunately for us, there are still among us many Africans who insist there is no reason for any “new” citizen to emerge — one concerned with developing the country to its full potential.
Yet we all know that all tsotsis, wherever they are, deserve a kick up the . . . you-know-what.
Bill Saidi is a veteran writer based in Harare