‘Cuba is the answer, Cuba is here’

2015-06-03 06:00
CUBAN civil engineer Alberto Fidel Alonso, one of the 38 Cuban engineers, being welcomed by the Free State ANC leadership on Monday, 25 May.

Emile Hendricks

CUBAN civil engineer Alberto Fidel Alonso, one of the 38 Cuban engineers, being welcomed by the Free State ANC leadership on Monday, 25 May. Photo: Emile Hendricks

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estimated R77 million will be paid to the 40 Cuban engineers the Free State government has secured to render service in the province for three years.

Unveiled to the public at a media conference on Monday, 25 May, in Bloemfontein, the Cubans have been contracted to strategic positions by the provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to render service in government entities across the Free State.

This is in line with the Free State government’s turn-around strategy aimed at improving service delivery in local government spheres and local municipalities.

Elias “Ace” Magashule, the Free State premier, said the Cubans had been employed on a three-year contract as deputy directors or middle-management level.

Magashule said the Cuban engineers specialised in various fields such as hydraulics, architecture, structural engineering and social housing experts. He said the engineers would go through an intense orientation programme in the next two months to help them understand the demographics of the province and country as a whole, adding that they would be offered a crash course in English and Sesotho in the next two months to ensure that they could adapt.

The premier indicated that the recruitment of the Cuban engineers had been necessary, reasoning that the decision had been taken because local engineers were refusing to work in rural municipalities.

“Newly graduated engineers lack experience, so the Cubans are here to merge experience with qualifications. We have been advertising engineering positions with no success. Cuba is the answer, Cuba is here,” said Magashule.

Responding to whether the engineers had been registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), Magashule said: “The Cubans wouldn’t be here if they were not competent and qualified.”

Magashule further explained that, although the Cubans would be working in various struggling local municipalities such as Mafube and Maluti-a-Phofung, the Free State Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) would be paying the salaries of the Cubans.

Cash-strapped municipalities will not afford the salaries of the Cubans, with each estimated to get R400 000 per annum.

Senne Bogatsu, spokesperson of the department of Cogta, said the Cubans would cost the government an estimated R30 million per annum over the three-year term of their deployment.

She said this year’s salary costs would be less due to the fact that the Cubans would only be in the country for seven months. The estimated figure of R77 million includes accommodation which will also be footed by Cogta for the next three years.

“The figure includes cost to employer salaries at approximately R650 000 per annum, accommodation and travelling costs to and from Cuba for a month’s leave once a year,” said Bogatsu.

Although the team of 40 Cubans were recruited by the provincial government in January 2015, only 38 Cubans arrived in the country last weekend (23-24/05).

The Cuban engineering team is made up of 12 women and 26 men.

Magashule also revealed that next month the MEC for Education Pule “Tate” Makgoe, would be going to Cuba to recruit mathematicians.

Roy Jankielsohn, the DA’s Free State leader, reacted with dismay to the deployment of the Cuban engineers.

“If Magashule and the ANC were keen on creating jobs for unemployed South Africans, his government could have employed any of the about 500 qualified, experienced, and unemployed engineers in the country,” said Jankielsohn.

“Magashule claims his government had to employ these engineers from Cuba because South Africans do not possess the required skills. This mentality is the worst sort of insult to South Africans. The relationship between the Free State and Cuba is extremely questionable. Magashule and his comrades are so infatuated by an outdated revolutionary romanticism, they are unable to think clearly.

“MEC Tate Makgoe commented during the budget vote debates that the Cubans possess the right kind of ideology to participate in the Free State government’s programmes, which we must stress are being funded by South African taxpayers, and not Luthuli House.

“The Free State government is hell-bent on staffing the provincial civil service with ANC ideologically-aligned Cubans above the millions of unemployed South Africans. This creates questions about what benefit the ANC and its individual leaders might get from what is clearly a financial relationship with Cuba.”


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