SANDF acquisition of non-approved Cuban COVID-19 drug draws more criticism


The decision to import Cuban medication to provide heightened protection against COVID-19 for soldiers at a cost in excess of R200 million, apparently contradicting South African medical regulations, attracted the attention of the Auditor-General and the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and others to date.

The medication was allegedly smuggled into South Africa in March last year aboard an aircraft chartered from SAA bringing a “brigade” of Cuban military medical doctors to help local medics fighting the pandemic.

The Military Command Council (MCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) last week issued a statement defending its acquisition of the Cuban Interferon drug with a thinly veiled support statement from SANDF religious liaison and communication officer, Colonel Sebatolo Loate, following.

The single sentence statement, issued at the weekend, reads: “It is with a heavy heart, extremely painful and with deep sadness that Chaplains continue to lead troops to the grave, whilst reliably informed that there are means that lives of the soldiers can be saved in order for them to be able to carry out their constitutional mandate of protecting and defending the integrity of this country”.

According to African Defence Review director Darren Olivier: “It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a petulant and disrespectful invocation of soldier deaths and the authority of chaplains to justify their irregular procurement of Heberon despite it having no proven benefit against COVID.”

Forthright Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais noted the military chaplain statement was “just too coincidental” coming hard on the heels of the MCC statement.

He would like an explanation from the Chaplain General including “what information they have implying there are means to save the lives of soldiers”.

“I will ask the chair of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) to call the Chaplain General to explain what his, or their, intentions were; what their ‘reliable information’ is as well as supporting proof for the weekend statement.

“If military chaplains allow themselves to be abused in support of the MCC’s mafia style actions in illegal and irresponsible smuggling of unauthorised Cuban COVID-19 medicine, their so-called support is rejected with the contempt it deserves,” he told defenceWeb.

Marais supports the good work done by military chaplains but “regrets” their involvement in “internal Department of Defence (DoD) battles”.

“It is right for them to be concerned about soldier deaths, but chaplains are not medical experts and should refrain from involvement in matters they have no expert knowledge of,” he said.

On Friday there was apparently an altercation between the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), better known as the Hawks, and the national defence force.

According to the Sunday Times there was a “stand-off” between the special police unit and military police.

“The Hawks and SAHPRA attempted to confiscate stores of Heberon Interferon-Alpha-2B at the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) depot in Pretoria. They were, however, made to leave after a confrontation. An ‘incident’ was confirmed by SAPHRA and the Police ministry,” the weekly newspaper reported.