South Africa spent R1.6 billion on Cubans – but locals could have done the work

The South African government paid over R1.6 billion to Cuba for services which could have been done by local workers.

This was revealed in a recent Rapport article, which unveiled that a large part of this money was spent on the SA Army’s Project Thusano.

Project Thusano started in 2015 and it is a partnership between the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and Cuba to “create a sustainable system of transport for the SANDF”.

In simple terms, Cuban military mechanics are used to provide maintenance to SANDF vehicles and train local mechanics.

The project started in the 2015/2016 financial year with the SANDF spending R6 million on Project Thusano.

The spending rapidly increased to R144 million in 2016/2017, R163 million in 2017/2018, and R261 million in 2018/2019.

Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula revealed that R1.076 has been spent on Project Thusano to date.

The SANDF defended the project, saying it has saved the country R2.1 billion over the contract period with the added benefit of developing essential skills.

Lindiwe Sisulu South African Minister of Human Settlement 1
Lindiwe Sisulu – South African Minister of Human Settlement

This report comes amidst a legal battle over the use of Cuban engineers to help fix the country’s water crisis.

Last month Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu welcomed 24 Cuban engineers to South Africa.

These Cuban engineers have been seconded to South Africa to enhance and improve government’s efforts on water delivery and related services.

The Cuban engineering project would cost R64 million.

Shortly after the engineers arrived in South Africa, it emerged that they were not registered to work in the country.

The Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) said they were not allowed to carry out engineering work unless their qualifications are assessed and approved, or they are supervised by a registered engineer.

Trade union Solidarity has also argued that it was not necessary to import skills from Cuba as there were many local engineers who could do the job.

Solidarity has subsequently sent a list of more than 120 “competent and willing” engineers to Sisulu who can easily replace the 24 Cuban engineers.

After their plight was unsuccessful, Solidarity said it would serve court papers on Sisulu seeking the disclosure of information and an interdict to stop the deployment of the Cuban engineers.

Cuban doctors
Cuban doctors

There was also an outcry last year after it emerged that the government spent R440 million on health specialists from Cuba while many local health professionals were unemployed.

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) raised concerns about the plan, adding that not engaging with the association is flawed and wrong.

Earlier this year, SAMA spokesperson Angelique Coetzee said they haven’t seen the positive impact these doctors are reported to be making.

She added that they are aware of “complaints about the language barrier”.

Coetzee added that employing Cuban doctors in South Africa can have negative long-term effects as it comes at the expense of employing local doctors.

Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize defended the decision, saying South Africa stands to benefit from the Cuban medical brigade.

Minister Naledi Pandor has also defended the position, saying “the Republic of Cuba has been a vital embodiment of humanism and international solidarity”.

“The Cuban medical brigade working with such acclaimed commitment and dedication to save lives in the hinterland of our country do so in pursuit of this exalted vision of building a better human society,” she said.

Now read: Here are 120 South African engineers who can fix the water crisis instead of Cuban engineers

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South Africa spent R1.6 billion on Cubans – but locals could have done the work