A multi-party oversight visit to a number of national defence facilities and bases, while proving fruitful, did not always come up to scratch in terms of information supplied.
One site where insufficient information was provided was north of Pretoria to what is now grandly called the SA Army main ordnance sub-depot, Wallmannsthal (MOSDW), previously 4 Vehicle Reserve Park (4VRP), under the command of Lieutenant Colonel MW Antonio.
In addition to Wallmannsthal, the 12-strong group of Parliamentarians representing both defence oversight committees, also paid fleeting calls to AFB Waterkloof, the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) major transport base; 1 Military Hospital and a number of bases forming part of the national border protection tasking, Operation Corona.
MOSDW is one SA National Defence Force (SANDF) facility where Cuban mechanics and vehicle technicians assist in “reviving” the landward force’s internal capacity as far as technical support teams are concerned as part of Project Thusano. Cubans are also based at the Potchefstroom ordnance sub-depot in North West. Bringing this “internal capacity” back is seemingly to replace what was the Technical Service Corps (TSC) of the then SA Defence Force (SADF).
Thusano was reportedly flagged by the Office of the Auditor-General for a 2014 contract involving Cuban mechanics repairing military vehicles. According to the Sunday Times, the contract involved 150 Cuban military mechanics coming to South Africa to repair and refurbish SANDF, mostly SA Army, vehicles. “The contract, which escalated from under R200 million to R900 million plus in 2019, was flagged as irregular after it emerged General Shoke (SANDF Chief) signed it without permission from the Secretary for Defence or the Defence Minister,” the Sunday Times reported.
The Project Thusano mandate at Wallmannsthal, the oversight group was told, is to deactivate and dismantle PME (prime mission equipment) vehicles declared beyond economical repair (BER), to harvest components from BER vehicles to be back loaded to the SA Army Main Ordnance Depot for re-use on other vehicles. The scrap metal that remains after this process, is sold off by Armscor and the funds thus generated paid into the B7 Account.
Project Thusano also has skills transfer to South Africans as a component with the Parliamentary group hearing 12 national defence force personnel – five artisans and seven apprentices – are currently working with “Cuban specialists” at Wallmannsthal.
Reporting back in Parliament this week, the delegation expressed concern about the limited scope of the presentation at MOSDW, saying it expected a broader update on Thusano. Cuban involvement in the “mundane process” of vehicle dismantling was questioned as was the lack of numbers of ordnance depot personnel nationally under Cuban mentorship.
Challenges identified included a computer aided logistic management information system (CALMIS) and cable theft, a slow running system and three day a week availability. There is also a shortage of specialised equipment in workshops including an alternator tester, starter tester and a machine for air valves and air tools.
Portfolio Committee on Defence co-chair Cyril Xaba indicated the delegation’s concerns would be “taken up at the appropriate level”.