Trees are growing through the dilapidated cabins of old army trucks at a site near Pretoria, because they’ve been neglected for so long.
City Press’ sister paper, Rapport, learnt last week there were about 2?000 vehicles – about 30% of them older than 25 years – at Wallmansthal.
The vehicles were written off two years ago by technicians from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and Armscor – and were to be sold on public auction.
Armscor helped to guard these vehicles while all useable parts were removed in preparation for the auction – at a monthly cost of thousands of rands.
Army sources told City Press the vehicles could have brought in about R250?million on auction.
Impeccable SANDF sources said the trucks should have been sold more than a year ago, but the army’s senior management refused to approve the sale because they apparently doubted whether the vehicles were really in a bad state.
So, in August 2014, SANDF chief General Solly Shoke signed two contracts with the Cuban state enterprise Tecnoimport for a training-exchange programme of army mechanics to repair the vehicles.
City Press has seen an undated letter written by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula that suggests Shoke signed the contracts before he was mandated to do so.
In the letter, the minister delegates the necessary authority to Shoke, but also refers to the two contract numbers – which suggest they already existed at the time she wrote her letter.
Tecnoimport was primarily established to import agricultural equipment into Cuba.
According to the contract, which City Press has seen, the first “instalment” of R33?million had to be paid in euros into the international account of Tecnotex, a company whose website says it mainly handles purchases for the tourism and private sectors in Cuba.
Tecnotex made the news a few years ago when its chief director and other members of senior management – all of whom hold the rank of general – were arrested for corruption.
The Cuban media was not allowed to report on the arrests, which were related to transactions with two British and two Canadian companies.
Fernandez de Cossio, the Cuban ambassador to South Africa, has not responded to written questions about the transactions, which were sent to him two weeks ago.
More than 100 Cuban motor mechanics have reportedly come to South Africa to repair the old vehicles.
Even though some soldiers are unhappy with the arrangement, the SANDF says it will “keep on using [the mechanics] as long as we please”.
It also insists that local vehicle-repair companies have “been exploiting” the army for years.
Defence department spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said Shoke handled 90% of army matters and was authorised to make army-to-army agreements.
The Cuban contracts are, however, financial agreements and, as such, are the responsibility of the chief accounting officer and the secretary of defence, on behalf of the department.
“There is nothing wrong with our agreement with the Cubans. Cuba has some of the best military expertise in the world and can help us with everything we need,” Dlamini said.
“We will prove wrong anyone who doubts this. “The local vehicle-repair industry has been exploiting the army for years.
“We have Samil [South African military] trucks strewn across the country after local dealers ‘repaired’ them at great expense.
“It is costing the army millions and we had no other choice but to find alternatives.
“Anyone who has a problem with the Cubans can go jump in the lake,” Dlamini added.
The contracts stipulate the Cuban mechanics should train technicians at the SANDF.
Army sources, who have worked with the mechanics on vehicles in Potchefstroom, Bloemfontein and Wallmantshal, complain that the Cuban mechanics cannot speak English.
The sources said each group had a teacher as an interpreter, but all the army’s manuals and study guides for the vehicles were in English.