Modise maintains Cuban military training adds value for SANDF


According to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, Cuba is “the only country that opened its training opportunities in bigger numbers to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF)”.

Replying to questions from Kobus Marais, the Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for her portfolio, she said as of last August there were 105 SANDF personnel in Cuba. Thirty are enrolled in the Cuban equivalent of the South African Security and Defence Studies Programme (SDSP) and what in South Africa would be the Joint Senior Command and Staff Programme (JSCSP) with a further 75 doing “various vocational/cadet training”.

South African military personnel have been going to Cuba for training, ranging from medical to pupil pilots, since 2014. With the exception of 2020 when COVID-19 levels were such that travel was not advisable, South Africa has spent R359 million on Cuban training. The Ministerial response does not indicate if this spend includes the cost of flying to and from the Caribbean, which is given as R136.4 million for 32 flights using aircraft chartered from SAA since 2017.

Excluding the 105 personnel in Cuba last year, 221 SANDF personnel from the Air Force, Army, Health Service and Navy, have spent time in the Caribbean nation either adding to their military skills or honing ones already known.

Vocational and cadet training ranges from “artisan” to aviation engineering and technician, pilot, MBCHB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery), psychology and biomedical, the ministerial response states.

Asked why Cuba for pilot training, Modise told Marais: “The SA Air Force (SAAF) faces shortages of reliable training aircraft and relies on FLOs (foreign learning opportunities) to keep up with the demand to have trained and skilled workforce in the aviation sphere”.

She further explained: “Cuban FLOs provide a value chain training in aviation such as pilots, aviation technicians, aviation engineers, air traffic controllers and aircraft preservation, including simulator developer and software developer programmes that South Africa and the SANDF are highly in need of. The Cuban Pilot Training is using the L 39 Albatross fighter jet, which is used in several countries as a versatile jet trainer for their fighter pilots (sic)”.

As far as medical training for SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) personnel is concerned, Modise told her questioner Cuba is “the obvious choice” due to, she said, “medical expertise and ongoing assistance to the Department of Health”.

She also informed Marais “Cuba was the only country that has opened its training opportunities in bigger numbers to the SANDF and that could tailor make training programmes according to the SANDF’s unique training requirements which is the most cost-effective way to train and qualify large numbers of military personnel (sic)”.

“Training provided to the SANDF by Cuba is currently the best possible training intervention available based on the unique SANDF training requirements (sic).”

On Marais’ questioning of the use of Spanish as a medium of instruction, Modise told him “only extended courses – medical and pilot – are presented in Spanish” requiring a year of language training. She further pointed out it is in interest of the SANDF for personnel to be “conversant with other foreign languages, including Spanish” due to multilateral military relationships.