The use of Cuban military mechanics has saved the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) more than R100 000 in repair costs Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament.
The presence of Cuban military technical personnel in South Africa as part Operation Thusano, has seen 1 871 military vehicles, mostly Samil trucks and other soft-skinned vehicles brought back to full operational status by the Cubans in collaboration with SA Army technical services.
The 94 Cubans from the Caribbean country’s Revolutionary Armed Forces have been in South Africa since January 2015 and they were joined by a further 41 technical specialists last year. This, Mapisa-Nqakula said, was to assist in resuscitating the capability of the SA Army’s Technical Service Corps, better known by the nickname “tiffies”.
Apart from bringing much-needed vehicles back into service the Cubans repaired a bio-medical workshop and other medical technology equipment as well as a magnetic particle test bench and equipment used for diagnosing vehicle faults.
The presence of the Cuban military mechanics and vehicle technicians in South Africa is one outcome of a defence co-operation agreement signed between Cuba and South Africa in 2014.
Another outcome of the agreement will see 40 SANDF personnel next month (July) graduate in air traffic control, technical air and mechanical engineering as well as ground school training. The group of 13 officers and 27 cadets has been learning the specifics of these disciplines in Cuba since 2015.
Other work done by the Cuban contingent, apart from mentoring and training, includes de-activation of vehicles, preservation of combat and transport aircraft and what has been termed “various aspects” of SA Military Health Services’ (SAMHS) operations.
The Cuban group has also submitted 49 recommendations for improved maintenance and preservation systems in the airborne arm of the SANDF.
The involvement of Cuban military personnel in the SANDF is seen as part of assisting the Department of Defence (DoD) to reach milestone one of the Defence Review (halting the loss of capacity and capability in the SANDF).