The July C-130BZ flight to and from the Caribbean island republic of Cuba was part of SA Air Force (SAAF) force preparation, the reply to a Parliamentary question has revealed.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Kobus Marais in a written response to questions regarding the flight “the main aim was to attend to SANDF members who had completed training in Cuba and had to be repatriated all their luggage using the C-130 aircraft (sic)”.
“It was,” the minister told Marais “financially prudent to transport the Cuban contingent’s luggage as it were destined to the same place (sic) instead of flying the aircraft empty on the way to Cuba”.
She gave the cost of the flight as R3 325 825,20 (part of force preparation); fuel and handling R1 685 267.51 and the total cost as the same amount with R5 311 091,71 given in brackets with no explanation but presumably the total cost when adding flying hours to fuel and handling. By defenceWeb’s sums those two add up to R5 011 092,71 and not the R5 311 092,71 given in the Ministerial response which also confirmed there was only “freight” aboard the ageing airlifter which apparently brought back to South Africa the personal effects of SANDF members who completed studies in various military and other disciplines in Cuba.
The “luggage” referred to by the Minister was apparently domestic and other appliances bought in South Africa by Cuban military technicians deployed to repair and maintain older SA Army vehicles as part of Operation Thusano. According to Afrikaans weekly Rapport the Cubans flew back to their island home commercially on holiday at a cost of R3,2 million, apparently also borne by the South African Department of Defence and Military Veterans.
Another twist to the Cuba/South Africa military co-operation has come to light on an aviation chatroom where posters revealed a chartered SAA Airbus A340 flew from OR Tambo International to Havana via Accra last week. Aboard, according to Rapport, were 340 SANDF personnel going to study in Cuba as part of the military co-operation and exchange agreement between the two countries. Studies include various fields of medicine, flight training, specific engineering disciplines and artisans in various fields.
That flight, which returned to South Africa with about 250 Cubans aboard, reportedly cost R14 million according to Rapport. SANDF spokesman Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi confirmed to the newspaper flight expenses were approved by the National Treasury. He also confirmed the passengers as being both Cuban and South African military personnel along with “a group of recruits” going to Cuba for officer training.
The July passing out and graduation parades of SANDF members in Cuba was attended by SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke.
He was present at the José Marti Military Technical Institute in Havana where 10 SANDF members graduated in air traffic control, technical aviation, technical armaments and technical radio courses. Shoke’s second stop was the José Maceo Inter-Arms School in Santiago de Cuba where another 10 SANDF officers graduated after completing a three year specialised technical tank training and tank transporter operations course.
The third and final graduation ceremony was at the General Maximo Gomez Revolutionary Armed Forces Academy where 13 SANDF officers completed the Defence and Security Programme (SDSP) as well as the Joint Senior Command and Staff Programme (JSCSP). Both programmes last a year with students tutored in strategic operations. Seven SANDF officers, all colonels and captains (SAN) attended the Defence and Security Programme.