Apartheid is a cancer that must be exterminated: Radio Havana Cuba interview with Thomas Sankara

Aug 17, 2022
Fidel Castro and Thomas Sankara.

Fidel Castro and Thomas Sankara.

Liberation School introduction

The original French text, available here, is a transcription of an oral interview, and it is clear that the person doing the transcription was unsure of a few of the formulations. We therefore did our best to render the text as coherent as possible in English, based on the written French text (and without access to the original recording of the oral exchange).

This is the third installment in Liberation School’s Thomas Sankara translation project [1]. This translation series is the result of a collaboration with ThomasSankara.net, an online platform dedicated to archiving work on and by the great African revolutionary. We would like to express our gratitude to Bruno Jaffré for allowing us to establish this collaboration and providing us with the right to translate this material into English for the first time. This interview was conducted Radio Havana on the eve of the 3rd anniversary of the revolution.


On the fourth of August of 1983, a group of young officers, led by Captain Thomas Sankara, seized power in Upper Volta (today known as Burkina Faso), after having destroyed–by means of a military, grassroots movement–a reactionary regime controlled by neo-colonial interests.

From that moment, the National Council of the Revolution presided over by Sankara began a political program aimed at building a just society, where the economico-social development and well-being of all Burkinabe people was guaranteed, and where the consequences of colonialism and pro-imperialist governments that had underdeveloped the country would be eliminated.

In foreign policy, Burkina Faso has maintained, as a result, a set of principles characterised by solidarity with the African peoples that are confronted with Apartheid, racist aggression, and the domination of reaction and imperialism, while at the same time supporting the liberation movements in Africa like those in other continents.

A few days before the third anniversary of the August Revolution, Radio Havana Cuba conducted the following interview with President Thomas Sankara.


RHC (Radio Havana Cuba): Comrade President, what is the position of Burkina Faso concerning the struggle against Apartheid?

Thomas Sankara: Apartheid today is a form of modern Nazism. Apartheid is a living element of the imperialism of our times. Ultimately, Apartheid is also a strategy, in class struggle, for the exploitation of man by man. Consequently, tactically and strategically we have to combat Apartheid not because we are Black, but simply because we are humans and not animals, and we have chosen, in the context of class struggle, the class of the future, the working class, which makes people free, prosperous and happy.

RHC: What is being done concretely in Burkina Faso to struggle against Apartheid?

Thomas Sankara: Burkina Faso organizes the struggle against Apartheid at different levels. There are some social organizations like the Burkinabe Movement against Racism and Apartheid, but above all else there is the political and ideological training of all Burkinabe within the framework of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. We indicate to them all possible enemies of humanity and of our people, one of which is Apartheid. We take legislative, administrative, juridical, and political measures against Apartheid.

We boycott international activities in which the people responsible for carrying out Apartheid, the partisans and actors of Apartheid, impose their presence.

We combat it in sports, in cultural activities, in international meetings. We fight it economically, even though Burkina Faso is a small, economically weak country; we combat Apartheid and reject the products of Apartheid. Our fight also continues by way of proletarian internationalism in the desire for a unity of action and reflection with other people in order to put an end to Apartheid and exterminate this cancer that compromises not only Africa, but equally all of humanity. This is why we denounce, with all of our strength, the governments and regimes that, in their hypocrisy, say they oppose Apartheid, but in reality are its true agents, the primary purveyors of Apartheid in South Africa. Everyone deserves the same fate as the likes of Pieter Botha, and even more because ultimately Pieter Botha is only the arm while they are the brains [2].

RHC: What is the significance of the next Organization of African Unity (OAU) Summit for Burkina Faso?

Thomas Sankara: The next OAU Summit should constitute an extremely important stage in the development of our consciousness, but above all in the effective mobilization of multifaceted forces against Apartheid and equally against all the other ills that harass Africa, particularly indebtedness.

We must denounce indebtedness as the second pillage, a secondary, second round theft of African resources. We were colonized, exploited. Our resources were plundered. Today, they still want us to repay debts that we never contracted for our happiness, but these debts were imposed on us by the same people who, in the overflowing of their capitalism, considered it essential to create new markets, to invade them and to dominate them with financial power.

RHC: Comrade President, Burkina Faso will soon celebrate the third anniversary of its revolution. What is the current situation in Burkina Faso?

Thomas Sankara: Burkina Faso finds itself on the shining path of revolutionary victories. The construction of a new society for the benefit of a people that suffered for too long but–luckily since the 4th of August, 1983, with the arrival of the democratic and grassroots revolution–lives the possibility of beholding a new future. Our three-year-old revolution is in the process of consolidating itself. Many social successes constitute an endless list of victories in the domain of health.

We have obtained many victories in the domain of education. Thousands of schools have been built. In the domain of health, there have been thousands of health clinics built, more specifically, one health clinic per village: this was one of our directives.

A vaccination campaign has been extended to all countries and, in particular, children from our brother and neighboring countries have been vaccinated all along our border without taking into account the political regime, without considering the discord that exists between one or other of our neighbors and ourselves. We did this in the name of love for the people. But we are in the process of obtaining other economic victories, and the five-year plan that will begin August 4th of next year, at the same time that the celebrations of the third anniversary will be a challenge that our people will have to meet and will surely overcome in order to construct an even happier society, so that we can achieve a bright future. But above all, politically, our revolution is in the process of taking gigantic steps by developing our tactics and strategy, armed with the ideology taught to us by the great educators of the proletariat, we are currently building a political organization. As Lenin said, without revolutionary organization, without revolutionary ideology, we will not achieve revolution. It is for all of these reasons that our people are more and more certain that the difficult struggle that awaits them will result in victory because the revolutionary forces organize themselves more and more on a sound basis, a clear ideological foundation, and a dynamic unity of action to obtain more for the benefit of all our people and for the benefit of other peoples, since here we say that he who loves his people loves other peoples. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Cuban people, the Cuban Revolution, and especially the great comrade, Fidel Castro, for the clear-sightedness and the internationalist sense of Cuba’s commitment. This is why in Cuba, as well as here, we say: “Homeland or death, we shall overcome!”

RHC: Comrade President, to finish, would you like to send a personal message to Nelson Mandela?

Thomas Sankara: I will say to Nelson Mandela that no suffering is desirable for a human being, except for masochists. But when we suffer, when we bear pain and martyrdom for other men, for entire peoples, we can only be happy, since we succeed in the miracle of transforming pain, suffering and martyrdom into sublime happiness, into radiant victory for the benefit of other men; we animate humanity with an invigorating lifeblood, one that awakens the most daring and pushes forward those who are already infected. In this sense, Nelson Mandela in prison is a thousand times freer, a thousand times happier than those outside who consume under the exploitation of man by man, or worse, who always serve the objective interests of the enemies of the people, especially the arrogant imperialism of our times.


[1] The first was “We didn’t import our revolution” and the second “Thomas Sankara on the founding of the Black Institute.”
[2] Pieter Willem Botha, an outspoken opponent of racial equality and communism, served as the last prime minister of South Africa from 1978 to 1984 and the first executive state president of South Africa from 1984 to 1989. In 1985, the year before this interview with Sankara, he delivered the Rubicon speech in which he refused to give into the demands of the insurgent Black population, including the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. Due to ongoing mobilizations, he declared a nationwide state of emergency the following year and infamously stated: “This uprising will bring out the beast in us.” – Liberation School.

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