Dean Wingrin, defenceWeb – 12 December 2022
Recently retired Chief of the SA Navy (SAN) Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane says the maritime service intends expanding utilisation of the “Project Thusano” Cuban repair team for SAN ship equipment and dockyard infrastructure repair.
Speaking at last week’s Change of Command Parade at Naval Base (NB) Simon’s Town, Hlongwane said: “As regards Project Thusano, we intend to expand utilisation of the Cuban repair team to areas such as fleet maintenance for ships’ equipment, maintenance and repairs and to the Armscor dockyard for repairs on synchro lift, mobile cranes, pumps, power generating equipment, small boat propulsion systems and general mechanical and/or electrical maintenance”.
The Project Thusano repair team will be deployed at Simon’s Town and will be utilised as required to service other naval units.
Armscor, the State-owned defence and security acquisition agency which manages and operates the naval dockyard since 2007, previously indicated a declining defence budget allocation was impacting on maintenance and repairs of the SAN fleet.
Project Thusano is an agreement between South Africa and Cuba signed in 2012 for Cuban technicians to maintain and repair military prime mission equipment (PME) in South Africa, mainly vehicles. This was subsequently expanded to include driving and maintenance simulators, maintenance and repair of aviation equipment and armaments for the SA Air Force (SAAF), medical equipment for the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) and provision of training and Senior Staff courses for South African military students in Cuba.
The initial agreement was for five years but was extended to January 2025. Total spend on Project Thusano for its duration is estimated to be more than R2.665 billion.
To date, 1 049 vehicles have been repaired at Simon’s Town, with 32 naval personnel undergoing security and national defence and strategic operations courses in Cuba.
It appears Project Thusano will substantially increase its involvement with the SAN.
Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais maintains South Africa is facing a huge challenge with “dilapidation” of SAN capabilities. The midlife upgrade of four frigates and three submarines requires urgent prioritisation, for which National Treasury committed funding in the recent Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS).
“Project Thusano is, from my view, not the correct ‘vehicle,’” Marais said, adding: “The Auditor General has declared the two main Project Thusano agreements plus all supplementary agreements (10 to 15) are irregular, not in compliance with the Constitution, the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act) and various National Treasury regulations.”
“This makes them illegal transactions and wasteful expenditure. Further expenses on Project Thusano will exacerbate the transgressions and wilful illegal actions,” Marais said.
Marais believes the Armscor dockyard should handle required maintenance and upgrades, in partnership with competent companies in the South African Defence Industry (SADI).
“We know the capabilities and capacity to do this work are available in SADI. This will assist with sustainable job creation, stimulate economic growth and sustain locally manufactured spares. Our SADI is in dire need of projects from the SANDF and these upgrades as well as maintenance are opportunities we cannot miss out on. It makes sense to develop local capabilities and support local defence industry developments.”
The Cubans, Marais maintains, have nothing to offer South Africa which the local SADI cannot offer … and more.
“Project Thusano is a discredited project that ignored domestic capabilities. We owe it to our nation and the local SADI to be supported to handle these essential and urgent defence capability development projects.”
“The Auditor General has declared the two main Project Thusano agreements plus all supplementary agreements (10 to 15) are irregular, not in compliance with the Constitution, the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act) and various National Treasury regulations.”