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Defence Minister Thandi Modise defends army training in Cuba

Defence Minister Thandi Modise. Picture: Phando Jikelo-African News Agency (ANA)

Defence Minister Thandi Modise. Picture: Phando Jikelo-African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 24, 2022


Defence Minister Thandi Modise says it was in the interest of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) that its members were conversant with other foreign languages before training in foreign countries.

This was Modise’s response when DA MP Kobus Marais asked her in a parliamentary question whether it was cost-effective to spend a year learning Spanish before they were trained.

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“It is in the interest of the SANDF that members are conversant with other foreign languages, including Spanish, due to the multi-lateral military relationships of the SANDF with the international community,” she said.

Marais posed parliamentary questions after 105 military members were sent to Cuba in August 2021.

He enquired about the reason the SANDF decided that the best possible training available to them was in Cuba.

In her response, Modise said with specific reference to medical expertise and their ongoing assistance to the Department of Health, Cuba was the obvious choice to train and qualify medical specialists.

She also said Cuba also demonstrated their skills and knowledge in terms of the maintenance and repair of various technical capabilities through its Project Thusano.

Project Thusano is a department programme that has been running for several years where vehicles are repaired by Cubans.

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“In addition, Cuba was the only country that has opened its training opportunities in bigger numbers to the SANDF, and that could tailor-make training programmes according to the SANDF's unique training requirements.”

Asked why the military members attended training in Cuba, where the only language of communication is Spanish, Modise said only medical and pilot courses were presented in Spanish to earn the language for a year.

“The one-year language intervention for extended courses is of such a nature that learners are able to grasp the learning material without any additional intervention.

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“However, it must be noted that, where further language interventions are required, learners are provided with interpreters and or translators.”

Modise said even though the training was available in South Africa, the SANDF did a skills gap analysis and ascertained that there was a backlog that necessitated the current arrangement with Cuba.

She also said they would look into allegations that SANDF members were used for “obligatory garden work” to cut grass with machetes and were not provided with balanced meals.

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“The SANDF only became aware of the allegations of ill-treatment of Cuba learners via the social media platform as no formal complaint has been received in this regard.

“The organisation has, however, directed the defence attaché in Cuba to look into these allegations,” Modise added.

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