The use of Cuban mechanics to refurbish particularly Samil trucks in Project Thusano has apparently been extended to include the Ratel infantry combat vehicle.
This is attributed to the May meeting of Parliament’s standing committee on defence as reported by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG).
Secretary for Defence, Dr Sam Gulube, told the committee that the involvement of foreign, specifically Cuban, mechanics in the maintenance of SA Army vehicles should not be seen as a contradiction to the National Development Plan (NDP).
Gulube, according to PMG, clarified the issue of Cubans in the vehicle maintenance project by saying they were there to train the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to do the maintenance themselves. He said soldiers should be able to fix vehicles themselves when they are in field and this would also apply to the air force and the marine force (presumably the SA Navy’s Maritime Reaction Squadron).
“With the help of a contract signed with Cuban technicians, 140 army vehicles such as Ratels and others that had been lying unused were refurbished in the last three months, to be now combat ready and available for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force and the African Standby Force (ASF). This would in the long run save money.
“The contract with the Cuban trainers was extended for another year after the good work on skills transfers they did in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein,” he is reported as saying.
One of the major aims of Operation Thusano, announced mid-last year, was for 93 Cuban mechanics to repair 4 000 mostly SA Army vehicles. At the same time they would train and mentor SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel.
The Cubans are also part of a vehicle preservation exercise at Wallmansthal. The base, north of Pretoria, has 10 humidity controlled preservation hangars currently home to about 900 military vehicles. These include around 200 Samil trucks, more than 50 Ratels, 100 Casspirs, 100 Mambas, 24 GV6s, 20 Zebras, 20 Skimmels, 12 Cavallos and 30 Rooikat armoured vehicles.
The preservation process involves inspecting the vehicle, confirming the engine works, washing and cleaning filters, checking the electrical system, repairing minor faults, confirming fuel and oil levels, parking the vehicles, putting them on trestles and painting the tyres. The vehicles can be stored for five years and be fully operational again within 24 hours.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has visited the Potchefstroom and Wallmansthal sites to see the work being done by the Cubans in the maintenance, repair, preservation and training sectors.