Cuban military mechanics not needed in South Africa - Solidarity
Written by defenceWeb, Tuesday, 17 March 2015
“It cannot be about a shortage of these specific skills,” is how trade union Solidarity reacted to the presence of almost 100 Cuban mechanics working on mostly South African designed and manufactured military trucks at three military bases.
Jack Loggenberg, who represented the union more than two years ago in its battle to have the services of more than 600 specialist aviation technicians retained by the SA Air Force, is outspoken about the latest addition to the ranks of what used to be the Technical Services Corps of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
“Their presence at military bases in South Africa has to be either as a result of something that went wrong with a BBBEE contractor or an agreement between the Cuban and South African governments. Or possibly even a combination of both,” he said.
His previous dealings with the South African military machine leave him in no doubt that local skills do not feature high on the priority list.
Early in 2013 the SAAF announced it would not renew contracts for 523 aircraft maintenance specialists working for it as the Aero Manpower Group (AMG), an operating entity of Denel Aviation.
The airborne arm of the SANDF said it would keep on a small number of the specialists through a shared services agreement (SSA) whereby they would be mentoring and assisting in skills transfer to newer technical recruits.
“Eighty-eight, including four managers, were retained and we have recently been informed 23 of them will be told their services are no longer required within a month or so,” Loggenberg said, adding the supposed SSA had turned sour.
“Can you imagine what it must feel like for those who were kept on? They, as a condition of employment, had to transfer skills knowing full well once this was done they would simply be cast aside.”
Department of Defence head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini maintains the Cubans are doing a job that previously wasn’t properly done.
“The SANDF has had numerous problems with its vehicles,” he said during a media visit to 102 Field Workshop in Potchefstroom on Friday, adding it had been trying to fix vehicles through external providers.
“Our vehicles get fixed but two to three weeks down the line they are stuck on the road.”
Loggenberg said there was “absolutely no need” to import the skills set the Cubans offered.
“We have more than enough diesel mechanics as well as auto electricians and others needed to keep trucks working properly. The defence force used to do all its own maintenance but that wasn’t good enough and look where we are now. Foreigners are brought in on contract to do the work South Africans used to and can still do,” he said.
“They have no loyalty to South Africa or its defence force. For them it is a job. South Africans, on the other hand, would be proud to do this work because they would be serving their country.”
Dlamini said that private South African companies to whom work was outsourced were reluctant to pass on their skills to the SANDF and maintained military vehicles poorly. The Cubans, on the other hand, are experts at keeping equipment running despite sanctions and Cuba continues to enjoy good military relations with South Africa.
Loggenberg was not prepared to comment on suggestions that the Cuban presence would be enlarged in the not too distant future when aircraft technicians would arrive to maintain South African Air Force aircraft.
“We have heard about it but I cannot say anything until I know whether it’s true or not.”
According to a report on Netwerk24, the Cuban delegation will work on South African Military Health Service ambulances and SAAF equipment. A detachment of Cubans serving the SAAF is currently at 68 Air School in Centurion learning more about Air Force aircraft before being sent to various units, such as those at AFB Makhado in Louis Trichardt.
Cuban technicians are currently working in Bloemfontein, Wallmansthal and Potchefstroom.