That training in a number of military and other disciplines available in Cuba is highly rated by those in overall command of national defence force training is aptly shown by the current presence of over a hundred airmen, military medics and soldiers on the Caribbean island state.
Ten, presumably senior officers although not indicated as such by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC), from the four services are enrolled in a strategic defence and security programme (SDSP). The programme commenced at the start of this month (September) and is due to run through to August 2022 (it must be pointed out the official response to a defenceWeb enquiry has the end date as 31 August this year). A further 20 officers are enrolled for a Cuban joint senior command and staff programme (JSCDP) over the same timeframe.
The other 75 South African military personnel in Cuba are from the SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Army and SA Military Health Service (SAMHS).
They are in the Caribbean for pilot training (28 August 2021 to 31 August 2024), aviation technical training (28 August 2021 to 31 August 2024), aviation engineering training (28 August 2021 to 31 August 2026), military medicine training (28 August 2021 to 31 August 2027), what is termed a “psychology course” (28 August 2021 to 31 August 2024) and artisan training, from 28 August this year to 31 August 2023.
The SANDF has sent dozens of students to study various subjects in Cuba. As an example, in 2015 25 South Africans were studying to become doctors and 30 SANDF personnel were learning the trade of motor mechanics and other technical trades. In June this year, nearly two dozen South African students returned from Cuba after a six-year stint studying medicine.
In September 2020, outgoing SA Air Force (SAAF) Chief, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, commissioned 27 South African candidate officers following successful completion of courses in Cuba. The newly minted officers were trained in air traffic control as well as engineering and technical disciplines.
The South African military and Cuba enjoy a tight relationship, which has seen SANDF personnel training in Cuba, Cuban technicians repairing South African military vehicles, and South Africa acquiring more than R200 million worth of Cuban-produced anti-COVID-19 drug Heberon.
Under Project Thusano, Cuban technicians repair SANDF vehicles and other equipment over the last seven years and according to the Department of Defence (DoD), repaired 11 000 vehicles. This came at a cost of R1 billion since Thusano was implemented in 2014. The Cuban contingent has, in addition to taskings across three services, also done skills transfer. This, the DoD says, saw 1 386 SANDF personnel forming part of the project’s skills transfer component with 319 of them receiving “official qualifications” and 483 transferred back to and working at their original units.