DA questions SANDF’s continued use of Cuban mechanics to repair equipment

The government is said to be outsourcing the Cubans to maintain and repair military equipment under Project Thusano when South Africa had its own mechanics.

FILE: An SANDF Olifant Mk 2 Battle Tank on manoeuvrability display at the African Aersospace and Defence exhibit at Waterkloof Airbase. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

JOHANNESBURG – The Democratic Alliance (DA)’s shadow Minister of Defence, Kobus Marais, said that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had spent over R1 billion on Cuban engineers while South Africa had its own mechanics.

The government is said to be outsourcing the Cubans to maintain and repair military equipment under Project Thusano, they were meant to be here for only five years.

“We’ve already passed that five years and suddenly we find the Cubans are being used for weapons training, sharp shooting and for whatever other purposes that are needed in the defence force, and it’s just unacceptable,” Marais said.

In an article published by Defence Web, the Project Thusano director, Brigadier-General Joseph Tyhalisi, explained the presence of the Cubans: “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.”

But Marais said that the SANDF used to have a tactical service corp that was responsible for the maintenance of all equipment, specifically vehicles. The corp was manned by personnel from within the defence force but over time this division, along with others, was neglected. At one point, the SANDF was outsourcing the maintenance of vehicles to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“I remember when I joined the force six years ago there was this discussion about the outsourcing of the maintenance of the vehicles to small businesses and entrepreneurs all over the show, and they were, according to them, overcharging the defence force, which I couldn’t understand because in my day, the tactical service corp used to look after the maintenance, they were even trained artisans from the defence force, they qualified as mechanics,” Marais said.

The shadow minister pointed out that the country had a high unemployment rate across the board and the money spent on the Cubans could be used to employ South Africans. He said that the government could invest in training the youth and having them take up maintaining the equipment.

“I cannot understand why it is a priority to spend over a billion rand on Cuban mechanics when we have people here. Our unemployment in South Africa is the highest ever. And the Cubans are being used for weapons, for sharpshooting – it is totally unacceptable,” he said.

At the same time, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula bemoaned her department’s decreasing budget, claiming that it could lose the ability to repair, maintain and overhaul most of its defence systems if the budget continued to be slashed.

Mapisa-Nqakula had been presenting her budget vote to the National Assembly when she said that the declining budget allocation had a negative effect on SA’s military capabilities, mentioning the impact on her department’s ability to meet operational responsibilities assigned to it and on its international obligations.

The department has been allocated R46.3bn, down from R52.4bn in the previous financial year.

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