The bilateral defence co-operation agreement between Cuba and South Africa now extends as far as sending heavy vehicle training simulators to the Caribbean island nation.
This is the inference from a statement issued by Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, Director: Corporate Communication of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). He was responding to a weekend report the defence force was apparently attempting to smuggle arms and ammunition to Cuba aboard an SAA flight.
“The equipment in question was heavy vehicle simulators for training purposes cleared by Customs and Armscor following due process. The SANDF would like to state there were no small arms or munitions forming part of the consignment as reported.
“The equipment was earmarked for the training of SANDF members in technical aspects of simulator development, maintenance and repairs as part of the bilateral agreement with the Cuban Armed Forces, Project Thusano. This is aligned with the need to develop necessary technical scarce skills in the SANDF as identified and directed in Milestone One of the South African Defence Review 2015,” according to the statement.
Project Thusano has seen Cuban military mechanics in South Africa repairing and bringing back to operational level, vehicles that were essentially put aside when the Technical Services Corps of the SA Army was decimated in the early 2 000s.
Explaining the Cuban presence, project Thusano director Brigadier General Joseph Tyhalisi earlier this year told the SANDF publication SA Soldier: “The project was the result of a decline in the core capability of our technical service. In assessing this we decided to look at what kept the Cubans going through the years of the US trade embargo. Even now they have vehicles manufactured around 1940 still running. They also manufactured spares and did not rely on supplies from any country”.
More than 1 500 combat and logistics vehicles have been repaired under the auspices of project Thusano since it started three years ago.
In addition to providing much-needed transport facilities for particularly the landward service of the SANDF, the Cuban mechanics and technicians have also worked on medical equipment for the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS).
Rapport over the weekend said the SAA flight that was supposed to depart to Cuba last week was delayed by customs officials after they discovered R4 and R5 assault rifles, 7.62 mm light machine guns and ammunition on board. The paper did not disclose its sources.