Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says the SANDF did not know the cost of employing Cuban nationals.
She has however revealed that the payment towards Project Thusano totalled R1.06 million.
Mapisa-Nqakula revealed this while responding to parliamentary questions from DA MP Nomsa Marchesi.
Marchesi enquired about the number of Cubans employed by the department since 2010 and plans to employ other specialists in the next three financial years.
She also wanted to know the costs of employing the Cubans and whether the SANDF took steps to ensure skills were available in the country.
In her written response, Mapisa-Nqakula said Project Thusano started in February 2015 and 767 Cuban have worked in South Africa between 2015 and 2020.
The minister’s response showed that an increase in the maintenance and repair teams was approved during the 2017-18, and a project on simulators also began during this period.
“A downscale process started in 2019-20 and the number of artisans and interpreters was reduced. However, the military medical brigade arrived in April 2020, consisting of 27 members,” she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula revealed that the SANDF planned to employ 451 Cubans in the next three years.
The Military Medical Team will finish in October 2021 and the downscale process would start in 2022-23.
The minister said the Cubans have worked in various areas such as maintenance and repair of vehicles, and would continue doing so going forward.
They were transferring skills ranging from servicing aircraft and maintaining medical equipment to combat shooting training.
Mapisa-Nqakula said the Cuban specialists were brought in because the hiring of South African companies to provide maintenance and repair services had proved disadvantageous.
“The services are too expensive. The maintenance and repairs provided by these companies take a very long time,” she said.
“The quality of the maintenance and repairs is not good,” the minister added.
Mapisa Nqakula said that the SANDF paid a lot of money. The vehicles spent a long time receiving the maintenance and repair and when they were delivered back to the army, they had to be returned to the companies because they broke down very quickly.
“Taking into account the budgetary constraints faced by the SANDF, and the number and complexity of the missions it has to fulfil, the SANDF requires a faster, cheaper and more reliable maintenance and repair service for the Prime Mission Equipment (PME).
“For this reason, the SANDF must build its own capabilities for maintaining and improving the serviceability rate of the PME, which is critical for having a better combat readiness.”
Mapisa-Nqakula said the South African companies were not willing to repair the vehicles for a lower price, nor to transfer the skills for doing it.
“The Cuban members, on the other hand, are providing the services in the required way, and are transferring their skills to the SANDF members at the same time.”
In a separate response to DA MP Sarel Marais, the minister said 1 386 SANDF members who formed part of the Project Thusano benefited from the skills transfer.
A total of 319 SANDF members received official qualifications as an outcome of the project.
There were 483 members currently working in their respective units.
“Due to a bilateral agreement between Cuba and South Africa, there are no costs involved as a result of the dependency on the Cubans to service and maintain SANDF vehicles and equipment,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
Meanwhile, the SANDF is paying R2.6 million for the protection of the Cubans.
Mapisa-Nqakula told Marais that 21 members formed part of the protection services to the Cuban representatives.
“The current amount spent over six years on VIP protectors, on subsistence and travel allowances, accommodation and food is R 2 683 239.46,” she said.