Gone are the days of revolutionaries like Fidel Castro, Enernesto Che Guevarra, and Nelson Mandela, but their legacies linger, Cuba is a bastion of communism, and South Africa a model of transition from colonial domination to genuine social democracy.
But as I write an interesting shift may be about to occur in geo politics – if things go as predicted, we may be about to see the end of communism in Cuba, but a shift to the left in South Africa.
As Barack Obama makes overtures to the newly Fidel-less Cuba, which seems to be welcoming the advances of its one time sworn enemy, Jacob Zuma is on course to win his two thirds majority in South Africa, bringing with him a new era for South African politics.
The situation in Cuba is that America, once the long term adversary of the Cuban government, if not on the face of it the people themselves, are broaching hitherto unthinkable subjects, like the embargo which has for so long made Cuba an isolated and self reliant nation.
When Cuba found itself, some years ago, about to run dry of oil as the Soviet Union crumbled, the country went through a dramatic shift. It became very quickly self reliant in all sorts of areas, generating power and growing food became corporate necessities.
In so doing, Cuba became the ‘green reds’ – and the champions of environmentalism for many. Che and Fidel were the vanguard of the revolution, self sufficiency became the rearguard. While the people endured hardship and austerity in many ways, Cuba as a nation has benefited hugely from its ability to do without the help of others in its production of consumables. In doing so it has become the darling of environmentalists and leftist commentators.
But with America softening its stance, this could all be about to change. Trade, which has been blocked by the USA could recommence, and tourism could soar. All of this will see Cuba sucked into the global machine, and lose its way as a pioneering self sufficient nation.
Along with Fidel’s recent ill health led retirement, and his brother Raul’s more moderate approach to government, there is likely to be a general shift from the hard line leftism of past decades to a more approachable social democracy, which people like Obama will feel comfortable in engaging with.
Over in South Africa though, things are taking a different turn. As Jacob Zuma hovers on the cusp of victory, it is thought that he may take the country over the left, as his old allies in the communist party and the trade unions exert influence and remind him of his ideological background.
Zuma, a zulu, has the support of the zulu people, but has raised the hackles of many white voters, as is evidenced by the first major anti ANC showing by the unexpectedly strong Democratic Alliance. Perhaps this more viable opposition will restrain his leftist tendencies, or perhaps the antagonism will drive him into the arms of his old allies… we shall have to wait and see.
Whatever the situation, there is the potential for a notable shift in world politics, although Latin America as a whole remains well dominated by figures like Chavez, who continues to antagonise and enrage right wing governments with his strong rhetoric and socialist politicing, Cuba could be a testing ground for a new form of Latin American politics. We could be seeing the beginning of the end of Latin American socialism… or maybe not.
And while much of Africa is bedeviled by ‘strong man’ leaders, South Africa has for the last few years seemed the most stable and open of all the African nations, having dealt properly with its Apartheid legacy and changed its ways. But today there remain squatter camps, although now many squatters are white Afrikaners, and the man who seems likely to become president is far from being the measured diplomat that Mandela was.
An interesting, and troubling time on both accounts.