A national defence force presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) justifies the ongoing Cuba/South Africa connection as being essential for maintenance and repair of, among others, prime mission equipment (PME) for the landward force.
The presentation earlier this month (May) by Rear Admiral (JG) OB Mthethwa notes since 2000 the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) – “like other State departments” – experienced budget cuts due to declining gross domestic product (GDP) and “current economic climate”. This, the flag officer who is probably in the Logistics Division said, impacted force readiness.
“The decline in serviceability of PME because of budget cuts led to an exodus of scarce skills. Most of the SANDF’s skilled members were poached by the private sector who enticed them with lucrative packages. As a result the Department of Defence (DoD) leadership had to device new initiatives intended at improving the declining serviceability of PME (sic),” his presentation reads.
The outcome was Project Thusano to initially utilise Cuban mechanical skills to make particularly SA Army vehicles and equipment including Olifant main battle tanks (MBTs), Rooikat, Ratel, SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) ambulances as well as Samil trucks workable and usable. Proper control of spares and maintenance inventory at sites including Wallmannsthal and Tempe were added to the Cuban workload as was maintenance and repair of medical equipment, not specified but believed to be dental rather than surgical or diagnostic.
Skills transfer to empower and enable military technicians, in all probability from all four services, to undertake and complete maintenance and repair work is also part of the Cuba/South Africa defence agreement signed in the wake of a memorandum of understanding at military level.
The junior grade admiral’s presentation has it that Cuban expertise was utilised in maintaining and repairing over 13 000 vehicles with 11 623 currently completed. It further lists 34 Rooikat armoured vehicles repaired, 91 tanks (84 Olifant Mk1 and seven Mk2s also repaired with another 51 MBTs preserved.
The SA Air Force (SAAF) has been on the receiving end of Cuban expertise with 440 “support activities to periodic aircraft maintenance”, 129 “major repairs” (unspecified) and 94 “aircraft operative maintenances” as well as “maintenance and preservation of 243 aviation bombs” among the 12 achievements listed by Mthethwa.
Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian Kobus Marais keeps as weather eye on defence issues as his party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister keeps record, as far as possible using data and figure from briefings and answers to Parliamentary questions His reckoning is in the seven years Cuban military mechanics and technicians have been in South Africa they have cost the taxpayer in excess of a billion Rand.
“The way the Cubans are prioritised over South Africans is shocking, especially when it is taken into account the imported ‘skills’ now utilised were once freely available in the Technical Services Corps (TSC), affectionately nicknamed ‘tiffies’.
“If the Minister (Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula) offered them the same financial resources as the Cubans are receiving I’m sure those who left or were apparently poached would be back,” he told defenceWeb adding the Cuban skills were also available and ready for use in “any number of Reserve Force members”.