WHAT does Che Guevara still have to offer the world? Revolution? His best friend, Fidel Castro, does not think so. In the documentary Oliver Stone made with him, he says frankly that the conditions for revolution do not exist anymore. It's not going to happen.
But there is an aura that remains, when you travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo to talk to veterans of his 1965 campaign there, for instance, who despite its failure still yearn for a return to his spirit.
Perhaps it is this aura that makes the man who wanted to nuke the US endure on T-shirts, and makes the likes of Ariel Dorfman write on the cover of this collection: "The powerful of the earth shall take heed: deep inside the T-shirt we have tried to trap him, the eyes of Che Guevara are still burning from impatience."
So there might always be a market for collections such as these; it's the bottom line that counts. And judging by the jargon in the African National Congress (ANC) alliance's documents, the market will be sustainable as long as it rules, which we know is until Jesus comes.
Actually, Guevara had a lot to say about Africa. His longest publication is The African Dream, whose English translation runs to about 240 pages - much more comprehensive than these short pieces culled from very dated speeches, diaries and other shortish writings. But you'll find no extract from it here, despite it being published as a part of an initiative called African Perspectives. And if you thought this might be because it's coming as a separate volume in the future, there is no indication of that. It is not even in the comprehensive list in the back of everything Guevara wrote. The African Dream might as well not have existed.
What's going on? Good old Cuban censorship, that's what. Copyright is held by Aleida March, director of the Che Guevara Studies Centre in Cuba, and Guevara's widow. She has learnt her lesson about The African Dream.
Guevara's myth is partly due to very careful and successful management of his diaries. Expurgated versions were released by his family and Castro, exploiting the opportunity presented by his sensational murder in Bolivia. The African Dream was held back, and for good reason: it contains clear doubts by Guevara about the possibility of revolution in Africa. And it was not very flattering about African freedom fighters he met.
In 1998, March judged the time was right to reveal the book, based on a secret report to Castro after the failure of what Guevara himself called his "adventure" in the Congo. This was because Guevara's ally in 1965, Laurent-Desire Kabila, had installed himself as new leader of the Congo after Africa's own world war and some genocidal campaigns.
The book was handed over with much fanfare to Kabila in Kinshasa. Perhaps the Cubans calculated Kabila would not notice the contempt Guevara had for him back in 1965 and which he recorded in the book, because it was all in Spanish. We don't know what Kabila's reaction was because shortly afterwards he was assassinated by a bodyguard.
But it's a fair guess there must have been some sort of diplomatic fallout. When the English version appeared in 2000, there was some media astonishment about the depth of Guevara's loathing for his erstwhile comrades. But like the whole adventure itself, it soon got lost in the mists of time and myth. Today, few people even know that he was in the Congo.
It is part of a well established pattern. Even in the biography regarded as the best and most detailed, Jon Lee Anderson's 800-page doorstopper, only eight pages are devoted to the Congo mission. In Steven Soderbergh's excellent two-part movie, Che, it is ignored altogether. This is despite indications that this time was perhaps the second-most crucial in Guevara's life, after his participation in the Cuban revolution. Stone raises the theory that he had a nervous breakdown after the mission, and before he set off on his self-martyring adventure in Bolivia, where only death could await him. His Congo epiphanies seems to me to be key to one the most enduring myths of the 20th century. But you will not get tips for such notions in this censored book. Unless you're an ANC cadre, and want to show off your quasirevolutionary credentials, there is little reason to acquire it.
TITLE: Che Guevara Reader
AUTHOR: Edited by David Deutschmann
PUBLISHER: African Perspectives Publishing