Exclusive: Cuba now teaching flying and air traffic control to SA Air Force members


Cuban/South African military co-operation has ratcheted up another notch since the start of this month with 24 SA Air Force (SAAF) members now undergoing extended training in various aviation-related disciplines in the island republic.

That the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has its personnel problems, particularly in high-level skills sectors such as pilots, navigators and aircraft technicians, is common knowledge. It was again raised, albeit briefly, by defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula at AFB Waterkloof two weeks ago. She was briefing the media on aspects around the charter of a bizjet owned by a Gupta-owned company that flew Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and a small entourage to and from Japan.

She indicated approaches had been made by former SAAF members keen to sign up again and also mentioned collaboration with Cuba on training.

Department of Defence head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, confirmed this week that 24 SAAF members were now in Cuba.
“There are four SAAF members undergoing pilot training over a four year period and five members undergoing air traffic control training over a two year period. Another eight SAAF members are undergoing aviation engineering over a six year period and a further seven are doing three year aviation technical training courses. The courses commenced on September 1.
“The aim of the initiative is to increase co-operation and working relations between the Revolutionary Army of Cuba and SANDF in the spirit of improved co-operation as well as the promotion of military to military relations between the two countries,” he said.

While South Africa is sending trainee pilots and others to Cuba, the SAAF’s Central Flying School at AFB Langebaanweg is currently home to a group of nine pupil pilots and an instructor from the Royal Air Force of Oman. The group arrived at the West Coast base in September a year ago to start a 16 month pilot’s course.

The Omani air force operates 12 Pilatus PC-9M turboprop training aircraft, the last of which was delivered in March 2000. Corrosion and other problems have seen all the aircraft go back to the Pilatus factory in Switzerland for major overhaul and refurbishment work. With its training aircraft out of action for at least a year, a decision was taken to outsource training and the SAAF bid was successful.

The SA Army, specifically its vehicle maintenance section, has had about 100 Cuban mechanics and diesel specialists in its ranks since February as part of a technical agreement between the Caribbean island country and South Africa. They are working alongside South African maintenance personnel on Samil vehicles to create an internal pool of technical skills in the SANDF, Dlamini said at the time.
“This will enable the defence for to properly service and maintain its vehicles,” he said during a visit to a military vehicle maintenance workshop in Potchefstroom.

In April SANDF spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said 25 students who planned on making their careers in the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) were currently studying medicine in Cuba.