Questions about Cuban workers and their cost to SA


Five national government departments and ministries, including Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV), are the targets of a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) submission on the employment of Cuban personnel.

The application for full details of employment between the Cuban and South African governments comes from the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the form of chief whip, Natasha Mazzone.

In support of the submission she said: “For the better part of a decade the ANC government spent over R1.4 billion on agreements to employ Cuban workers and service providers in South Africa under the departments of Basic Education; Public Works; Health; Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation; and Defence”.

“This is a large amount and there is little detail on the employment agreements,” Mazzone said adding the DA “seeks access” five specifics as regards Cubans working in South Africa in terms of government to government agreements.

They are: a full breakdown of payments to Cuban workers, including salaries, accommodation and travelling fees; whether payments are made to the workers or if payments are made directly to the Cuban government; if the Cuban government receives any financial incentive from the agreements; confirmation if a South African skills audit was done to establish which critical skills were needed that local professionals could not offer; and whether an impact assessment is done after deployment to ascertain the necessity of continuing the agreements.

Replies to Parliamentary questions by Mapisa-Nqakula as well as a presentation to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) revealed, among others, Cubans have been involved in bringing back to serviceability more than 11 000 SA National Defence Force (SANDF) vehicles. Cuban expertise is not confined to the transport component of the SA Army and the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) in the form of its on- and off-road ambulances, as technicians from the Caribbean island nation also work on SA Air Force (SAAF) equipment, including aircraft.

According to Mapisa-Nqakula’s reply to a question posed by DA parliamentarian Nomsa Tarabella Marchesi, R9.5 million will be paid to Cuba this year for the contract with the SANDF. This is less than R274 million in 2018, R252 million last year and R170 million plus in 2017.

The Cuban contingent originally came to South Africa to repair and refurbish Samil and similar vehicles. This was apparently because local companies were “charging excessively” for doing the work as well as an in-house lack of capacity in the SANDF.

Mapisa-Nqakula’s response to a Parliamentary question indicated Cuban involvement in the national defence force now extends to include maintenance and repair of A, B, C and D-vehicles for all services and divisions; preservation of A and B-vehicles for the Army and SAMHS; de-activation of B-vehicles for the same services; stocktaking, organisation and management of Army warehouses; maintenance and repair of components and spare parts for vehicles of different services and divisions; maintenance and repair of transport aircraft and helicopters for the SAAF as well as maintenance, repair and manufacturing test benches and avionics components for the airborne service and maintenance and repair of SAMHS medical equipment.

Mazzone said in a statement making known the PAIA application: “The DA does not believe the agreements are as straight forward as government wants the public to believe”.

“It makes no sense to fork out billions to pay for skills and services from Cuba when there are unemployed and qualified workers across South Africa in all the identified fields desperate for employment.”

Other ministries the DA wants financial information from are those headed by Lindiwe Sisulu (Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation); Patricia de Lille’s Public Works and Infrastructure; Angie Motsheka’s Basic Education, and Health where Minister Zweli Mkize is suspended with Mmamoloko Kubayi, acting and absent from her tourism portfolio.