A growing number of Cuban technicians are working in South Africa, refurbishing infantry combat vehicles and South African Military (SAMIL) logistical transport vehicles of the South African National Defense Force (SANDF).
Defense Secretary Sam Gulube, in a presentation before Parliament, defended hiring the Cuban workers, saying they had come to train the military to do the maintenance themselves. He said soldiers should be able to fix vehicles themselves when they are in field and this would also apply to the air force and the marine force.
“I don’t know how to fix an aircraft,” Gulube said. “I don’t think I have a soldier who knows how to fix an aircraft.
“With the help of a contract signed with Cuban technicians, 140 army vehicles that had been lying unused were refurbished in the last three months, to be now combat ready and available for the Southern African Development Community Standby Force and the African Standby Force. This would in the long run save money,” he said.
“The contract with the Cuban trainers was extended for another year after the good work on skills transfers they did in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein,” he was reported as saying.
But, the agreement has rankled the South African trade union—ironically named “Solidarity”—which accused government of outsourcing their jobs.
Moving work from the privately-owned VME Group to a government ministry was “outrageous,” said Solidarity general secretary Gideon du Plessis.
“The VME Group handled repairs of the SANDF’s vehicles for 20 years and it had 100 percent black shareholding,” he fumed. “South Africans are struggling in the current harsh economic conditions and the minister’s loyalty to South Africa and its citizens will again be put to the test by this exercise.”
He called on the minister to immediately stop using Cuban technicians.
Years back, the leaders of Cuba and South Africa embraced each other over Cuba’s collaboration in African liberation struggles. Today, Solidarity is about preserving South African jobs.
Operation Thusano, announced last year, called for 93 Cuban mechanics to repair 4,000 mostly South African Army vehicles. At the same time they would train and mentor SANDF personnel.
Brigadier General Elvis Mathaba, director of Army logistics, explained that private industry was not delivering quality service to the SANDF, was not properly repairing vehicles and was reselling spares back to the Army.
Further, he accused private industry of colluding to create a spare parts monopoly.
The Cubans are also part of a vehicle preservation exercise at Wallmansthal. The base, north of Pretoria, has 10 humidity controlled preservation hangars currently home to about 900 military vehicles.
Picture: South African and Cuba have enjoyed friendly relationships, thanks to Cuba’s support of the anti-apartheid movement as evidenced by this photo of former South African leader Nelson Mandela and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.