No evidence of Lady R loading weapons – Ramaphosa

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There was nothing untoward or suspicious about the December arrival of a Russian cargo ship in the Simon’s Town naval harbour, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told the nation in a televised Sunday address.

The Lady R did not take South African arms, ammunition or other military equipment aboard after unloading “equipment” ordered in 2018 for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) by Armscor, Ramaphosa, who is Commander-in-Chief of the national defence force, said in an address originally scheduled for 1 September. It was postponed due to the horrific fire that swept through a downtown Johannesburg building, killing more than 70 people.

The Lady R’s late night arrival at the home port of the SA Navy (SAN) fleet was picked up by Simon’s Town residents resulting in a storm of criticism locally and internationally. One critic was United States (US) Ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, who maintained there was proof South African military equipment destined for Russian use in the still ongoing war against Ukraine, was loaded on to the Lady R.

“To ensure the docking of the Russian ship in Simon’s Town was thoroughly investigated, I appointed a three-member independent panel in May to enquire into the circumstances of the docking of the Lady R. The panel was chaired by Judge Phineas Mojapelo. The other members of the panel were Advocate Leah Gcabashe SC and former Cabinet Minister Enver Surty,” Ramaphosa said, adding the panel undertook “a considerable amount of work in a relatively short time” – he gave it six weeks to do its work and report.

“Close to 50 people in every relevant component of government” gave evidence under oath with the panel also visiting Simon’s Town.

“A number of entities and persons who publicly claimed to have information on this matter were invited to make submissions to the panel. Many of those invited either failed to do so or said they had no independent knowledge of the relevant facts.

“From its investigation, the panel found no evidence that any cargo of weapons was loaded for export onto the ship Lady R. The panel found no evidence to support the claim that the ship transported weapons from South Africa destined for Russia.

“The panel established the ship docked at Simon’s Town to deliver equipment ordered for the SANDF in 2018 by Armscor, the country’s arms procurement company.

“In terms of the contract for the supply of the arms, neither Armscor nor the SANDF had any control over the means through which the supplier of the ordered equipment would transport them to South Africa,” according to Ramaphosa.

He went on to say the panel’s report “outlined circumstances” leading to the docking of the vessel, as well as the type of goods supplied and the reasons why the goods were unloaded.

The panel did not find any evidence of criminal conduct by any persons involved but made findings and recommendations as regards functioning of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC). It also made recommendations on improving communication between Ministers and government officials, “including the adequacy of the relevant administrative processes”.

“Given that the evidence to the panel was classified and that revealing details of equipment offloaded could jeopardise the work and safety of South Africa’s forces in various deployments on the continent, I have decided not to release the report.

“In deciding not to release the report, I have taken account of the laws that both mandate openness and transparency and require that certain information that may be prejudicial to the defence and security of the Republic be kept classified and confidential.

“To reveal the details of equipment offloaded would compromise important military operations and put our soldiers’ lives at risk,” he told television viewers, adding an executive summary would be made public.

 defenceWeb understands Russian calibre ammunition was delivered for South African Special Forces, who use it in combat in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique as part of peacekeeping operations.

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier notes NCACC import permits in 2019 and 2020 covering approximately 10 million rounds of ammunition.

“I’m not disputing the findings of the inquiry. Despite my disagreements with the way everything has been handled I think the panel was a credible one and that the overall finding — that weapons were not loaded back onto the ship — is probably accurate,” Olivier stated.

“However, I believe that the continued over-classification & secrecy of everything surrounding this incident is going to make it difficult for most people, whether in SA or abroad, to simply trust what was said without evidence. It’s the wrong approach for something this serious,” he concluded.