The Cuban 5 on Robben Island: A Tribute to Mandela

By Deisy Francis Mexidor on June 25, 2015

Photo: Prensa Latina

Photo: Prensa Latina

Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and René Gonzalez visited the island where Mandela was imprisoned and paid tribute to his example of the triumph of human spirit over adversity

ROBBEN ISLAND, South Africa.—A sign in English and Afrikaans announces the arrival to Robben Island, situated off the coast of Cape Town. It is a site which encompasses a painful history, thankfully one that is now in the past for South Africans.

The island of dry sand and strong winds, is surrounded by sharp reefs and the unique sound of the thousands of birds that fly overhead, is today a symbol of freedom. To get there you have to board a boat at the Nelson Mandela memorial located in the commercial and tourist district of Waterfront. The journey is about 12 kilometers, a half hour boat ride, which is enough time to reflect on the triumph of human spirit over adversity encompassed by this historical site.

Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, the Five Cuban anti-terrorists who t, were greatly inspired by the spirit of resistance of Prisoner No.46664, Nelson Mandela, during their imprisonment in the U.S. Today they traveled to the island as part of their historic tour of South Africa.

Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment by the apartheid regime on Robben Island.

Accompanied by Ahmed Kathrada, who was also imprisoned alongside Mandela, the Five toured the historical site that was opened as a museum on January 1, 1997 and was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999.

Certain areas are usually off-limits to tourists, but Kathrada was able to gain access for the Five to view Mandela’s cell; a small, damp and unimaginable space. They studied the iron bars through which only hands could pass, the blanket on the floor was all that Mandela had for a bed, along with a bench and a small window. Each of them looked, touched the walls and tried to take an almost photographic image with their own eyes. It was a private moment of reflection. No questions were required.

Then, as they gathered to take a photo, Fernando noted the date: “Today is June 23, in 2001, 14 years ago, the Commandate Fidel Castro said we would return (to Cuba).” Meanwhile, Gerardo wrote in the guestbook on behalf of the Five: “It has been such a great honor to visit this place together with some of the brave comrades of Nelson Mandela.” The message continued, “All of them were a source of inspiration and strength for the Cuban Five to resist more than 16 years in U.S. prisons. We thank South Africa’s brave patriots for their legacy and example, which the Cuban Five will honor for the rest of our lives. On behalf of the Cuban People: Thank you!!!”


CAPE TOWN.—Members of the African National Congress (ANC) in the South African parliament received the Five during their visit to the legislative capital of the country.

The Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Lechesa Tsenoli, said that the Five are an inspiration across the world. In exclusive statements to Prensa Latina, Tsenoli highlighted the example of resistance that these men provided whilst in U.S. prisons, where they remained confined for an extended and unjust period of time.

The legislator also stressed the contribution of Cuban solidarity to the African cause, a sentiment that is being continuously repeated on the tour.

Since their arrival on June 21, when they were welcomed by ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, the Five have had the chance to talk with the leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). They were also warmly welcomed by members of the Society of Friendship with Cuba in South Africa (FOCUS) and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), who did so much to secure their release.

The visit by Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René will conclude on July 3 and is one part of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter. The tour of the Five was able to visit 5 out of the 9 provinces of South Africa.

The Five then continue on to Namibia and conclude their tour of Africa in Angola, where three of them (Gerardo, Fernando and René) served as internationalist fighters.

Source: Granma International