Castro & P. W. Botha are probably rolling, but for different reasons

One of the most forgotten and overlooked sideshows of the Cold War was the constant back and forth between East and West in the Southern half of Africa. While everyone thinks NATO vs Warsaw Pact for the Cold War, the sides were very different when it came to the Congo, and all points toward the Cape of Good Hope.

This put Castro’s Cuba facing off against Apartheid-era South Africa– two terrible regimes fighting Washington and Moscow’s proxy war.

As such, this saw the SADF and the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces lock horns covertly and overtly in Angola –where as many as 60,000 Cubans were deployed on the ground at their peak– as well as in Zambia and Namibia between 1965 and 1990, the latter two a wholly asymmetric conflict seen as a “dirty war” only by historians looking at one side.

However, regime change has occurred in both Havanna and Jo’Berg, where the latter has come more full circle and the former has only warmed slightly.

This week, South Africa’s Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, contended Cuba has “currently the best possible training intervention available based on the unique SADF training requirements.”

South African military personnel have been going to Cuba for training, ranging from medical to pupil pilots, since 2014. With the exception of 2020 when COVID-19 levels were such that travel was not advisable, South Africa has spent R359 million on Cuban training. The Ministerial response does not indicate if this spend includes the cost of flying to and from the Caribbean, which is given as R136.4 million for 32 flights using aircraft chartered from SAA since 2017.

Excluding the 105 personnel in Cuba last year, 221 SADF personnel from the Air Force, Army, Health Service and Navy, have spent time in the Caribbean nation either adding to their military skills or honing ones already known.

The Cubans no doubt love to low-key find out all there is to know about the SADF’s best post-apartheid kit including UK-supplied Starstreak SAMs, the superb indigenous new GV6 Renoster and T5-52 155mm howitzers, the French-supplied Thales Squire radar system, Swedish Gripen C/D fourth-generation jet fighters, and the South African Navy’s German-built MEKO 200 frigates and Type 209/1400 submarines. 

The current budget cut implies some SANDF prime mission equipment may have to be mothballed/preserved – the Gripen fleet is already grounded, for example and was in rotational storage.

The most affected sub-programmes will include helicopter, air combat, air transport capabilities, frigate, submarines and the Naval Dockyard. “As a result, these capabilities may be limited or unavailable to support force training and force employment. Support to UN missions, Operations Copper and Corona will be affected,” the DoD said.

Regaining lost capabilities will take time. “Due to the lifespan of some capabilities, they face technology obsolescence. Over a period of time the impact will not be visible to government and citizens and the decline may not receive due attention as is the case right now. However, all capabilities are systematically being paralysed and the downward spiral continues unabated.”

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