Almost a hundred Cuban technicians are working with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to maintain and preserve Army, Air Force and SA Military Health Service equipment, with the Cuban technicians already working on refurbishing 130 Army trucks.
Ninety-three Cuban technicians arrived in South Africa last month, including nine with the SA Army’s 102 Field Workshop in Potchefstroom. At the moment Samil trucks from Wallmansthal are being refurbished but other vehicles may be repaired at a later stage.
130 vehicles have been earmarked for refurbishment but the SANDF is looking at overhauling 250 trucks. Three vehicles have been completely refurbished so far with others in the works. The first vehicle, a Samil 20, had 250 hours of work done on it involving the engine, differentials, electrical system, pneumatic system, bodywork etc.
Technical maintenance repairs are being done in Potchefstroom while a Cuban detachment in Bloemfontein is looking at storage and preservation of vehicles. There is another team in Pretoria examining preservation procedures.
The Cubans were invited to South Africa on a year-long contract to both refurbish vehicles and assist the SANDF build capacity and train mechanics. “The SANDF has had numerous problems with our vehicles,” SANDF spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said, adding that it has been trying to fix the vehicles through external service providers. “Our vehicles get fixed but two to three weeks down the line they are stuck on the road.”
“The Cubans are here to assist us fix the vehicles and create capacity within the defence force so we can do the fixing and maintenance repairs ourselves,” Dlamini told a media delegation in Potchefstroom on Friday. “Until we create capacity ourselves we will be forced to continue to rely on external service providers.”
The Cubans are not just refurbishing vehicles – they have five goals: to organise fleet management, organise technical support, deactivate old vehicles, preserve vehicles and perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) activities.
Brigadier General Elvis Mathaba, Director of Army Logistics, said that the Cubans in particular were invited to assist the SANDF for several reasons: they are cost effective; private industry is reluctant to pass on skills to the SANDF; Cuba helped South Africa during the Struggle years and still has good relations with South Africa; and Cuba has been able to keep its own military vehicles running in spite of half a century of sanctions.
Mathaba said the poor state of the SANDF’s vehicles was due to a lack of maintenance, repair and overhaul. A skills shortage has compounded the problem and this Cubans will help address this.
Poor vehicle serviceability has financially impacted on the SANDF as the United Nations does not reimburse the military for unserviceable vehicles used on international peacekeeping deployments. The SANDF has equipment deployed in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo with UN missions there.