Project Thusano has seen Cuban military mechanics provide essential maintenance to make SA Army vehicles operational since 2015 and is set to continue with new personnel.
The Cuban contingent is in South Africa to assist in resuscitating the technical capability of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and recently rotated 44 members after completing their South African duty tour.
Brigadier General Joseph Tyhalisi, Project Thusano director, is quoted by SA Soldier as saying: “The project was the result of a decline in the core capability of our technical service. In assessing this we decided to look at what kept the Cubans going through the years of the US trade embargo. Even now they have vehicles manufactured around 1940 still running. They also manufactured spares and did not rely on supplies from any country”.
He also told the SANDF publication the introduction of Army Support Bases (ASBs) in South Africa coincided with outsourcing of military technical services. This saw the Technical Service Corps (TSC) reduced to replacing spare parts as opposed to fixing and repairing vehicle components.
“To date we copied what the Cubans did with the aim of resuscitating the SANDF technical services capability as directed by the Defence Review,” Tyhalisi said, adding there were now more than 200 apprentice motor mechanics who underwent training as part of Thusano.
More than 1 500 combat and logistics vehicles have been repaired since Thusano started in 2015.
Once repaired and operational following the intervention of the Cuban military mechanics, vehicles and other prime mission equipment is properly greased and stored indoors until needed for operational deployment. This is done through the logistics system which sees vehicles allocated to units needing them.
Tyhalisi believes the project has impacted positively on cost saving measures and skills transfers among SANDF members. He said: “While doing the fixing we are saving money that was supposed buy the spares needed to keep the vehicles running. There are several cost saving activities in Project Thusano and we have the Cubans to thank for assisting us to be better in our work”.
This has seen, as one example, those with theoretical training able to undertake practical work alongside the Cubans resulting in development of the individual as well as an overall benefit to the SANDF.
Another positive outcome of the Cuban presence was having them “on hand” as it were, to deploy to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) two months ahead of a UN equipment inspection.
“They were able to raise the serviceability status of deployed SANDF equipment and this resulted in an improved evaluation by the UN,” according to SA Soldier.
Tyhalisi maintains Thusano is also a contributor when it comes to supporting SANDF operations.
“We are now able to send our people to mission areas and do not depend on industry technicians as that may compromise missions. On the borders we have a team as required by Joint Operations. They are doing work on B and D vehicles utilised in Operation Corona,” he said.