The amount and range of work done by Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces personnel for the four SA National Defence Force (SANDF) services is a sad indictment of skills loss.
Parliamentarians heard from a Logistics Division brigadier general that technical personnel from the Cuban military have – and continue to – do much of the work previously the preserve of the Technical Service Corps (TSC). This corps known across the military as the “Tiffies” – with a distinctive beret badge featuring a lightning bolt and a prancing horse – is still a part of the overall SANDF but now appears to have more a Cuban flavour.
Cuban military technicians put their mechanical, auto- and diesel-electric skills to work in TSC workshops bringing trucks and specialist military equipment including infantry combat vehicles, armoured fighting vehicles and tanks back to working condition. This, in addition to what Cuban expertise is doing for the air force, military health service and navy, begs the question “What went wrong?”
If, as has been claimed, the TSC could not “keep” artisans in uniform, why not recruit and use the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA), one of 21 SETAs (Sector Education Training Authority) where skills ranging from agriculture through construction, finance, insurance and others including security are taught?
It doesn’t augur well for the national military machine – if the word is applicable – to be overly dependent on imported skills when South Africa sits with major unemployment and government initiated and approved training organisations.
Another possibility is hiring Cuban military mechanics is part of higher level government-to-government ties that have little to do with the SANDF and more with rewarding Cuba for liberation era assistance to the ruling ANC. South Africa has long made use of Cuban doctors and technicians and earlier this year revealed it planned to grant Cuba R50 million in direct aid. The SANDF was embroiled in controversy when it irregularly bought an unregistered drug from Cuba for use in preventing COVID-19 – another indication of supporting Cuba by any means possible?
It is also a sad indictment of the TSC command structure when a presentation to Parliament has it that over 600 000 unspecified military weapons were “preserved and maintained” by Cuban armourers (not the “amorous” quoted in the presentation). Add to that battery chargers, compressors, test benches, lathes, drills, hoists and overhead cranes repaired by the Caribbean islanders and it is patently clear pride in what one does and how one cares for equipment is no longer part of the TSC mentality.