Indications are 35 SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) members will not be able to put the initials MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine) or its Cuban equivalent after their names after going AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave) for more than a month on the Caribbean island.
A two-paragraph statement from the national defence force’s corporate communications directorate has it that the 35 aspiring doctors were “administratively discharged” after going AWOL for more than 30 days while on course in Cuba.
“These members were sent to Cuba in 2018 to study medicine and have been AWOL since February 2019.
“The Military Command Council wants to state emphatically the SANDF (SA National Defence Force) will not tolerate any ill-discipline within its ranks and drastic action will be taken against any member who brings the defence force into disrepute.”
Four years ago defenceWeb reported that 25 SAHMS personnel were in Cuba for seven years studying to become military doctors. At the time it was reported there were another 20 national defence force members doing technical training including that of motor vehicle technicians. The then Director: Corporate Communications Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga indicated more SAMHS personnel would be going to Cuba for study.
As of late 2018, there were 202 SANDF members undergoing professional training in Cuba, including medical training. Towards the end of 2018, 33 SANDF members successfully completed courses in different disciplines, with 10 becoming trained air traffic controllers, armament and radio technicians following graduation from the Jose Marti Military Technical Institute in Havana. Ten other SANDF members studying at the Jose Maceo Inter–Arms School in Santiago-de Cuba came through technical tank training and the tank transporter operational course. Additionally, 13 senior officers completed year-long studies in the Defence and Security Programme and Joint Senior Command and Staff Programme at the General Maximo Gomez Revolutionary Armed Forces Academy in Cuba.
In South Africa the most visible presence of Cuban military assistance is in Project Thusano which sees Cuban mechanics and technicians mentoring and training South African military technical personnel on vehicle maintenance and repair.