Lady R report will remain secret

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa invoked the National Conventional Arms Control Act (NCACA) when telling the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) he had “no intention of compromising the work or safety of our security forces” as regards what might or might not have been loaded off or onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R.

Democratic Alliance (DA) NCOP Western Cape representative Rikus Badenhorst used the NCOP’s verbal question and answer session to seek presidential clarity on issues around the now infamous arrival of the Lady R in the SA Navy (SAN) home port of Simon’s Town last December.

In response to whether the President “deliberately misled the nation” concerning “irregular handling of ammunition” apparently aboard Lady R, Badenhorst was told the “panel” appointed to investigate made no finding of involvement by clandestine parties or illegal transactions. Also, no evidence was presented to contradict the panel’s findings.

Ramaphosa further told his questioner: “The contents of the shipment carried on the Lady R are kept secret so as not to compromise the work or the safety of our security forces”.

“I have no intention of compromising this under any circumstances.”

Turning to the NCACA, the President said the Act “makes it clear information on the quantity of items is shared with Parliament on a confidential basis”.

“Nothing in the Act requires disclosure on the intended use of the controlled items. The Act expressly states ‘information concerning the technical specifications of controlled items may be omitted from a report contemplated in this section in order to protect military and commercial secrets’.

“The work of the National Conventional Arms Control [Committee] is critical in ensuring that we abide by our international obligations in relation to the transfer and trade in controlled items and will continue to do this critical work, as provided for in its founding legislation and the relevant United Nations (UN) conventions.

“The protection of information related to its work is clearly provided for in the Act and is just as important to its mandate and to national security,” the Presidential reply read, adding “government will continue to respect the requirements of the law and its responsibility to safeguard the security of the nation”.

The panel, led by retired judge Phineas Mojapelo, found no evidence that the country loaded weapons onto the Lady R for Russia’s war with Ukraine, as alleged by US Ambassador Reuben Brigety, who said he would stake his life on alleged evidence that South African arms were headed to Russia.

In early September, the South African Presidency published just an executive summary of the report, concluding no weapons were loaded for Russia and that the Lady R was merely delivering equipment ordered for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in 2018. NCACC records show 9.5 million rounds of ammunition were authorised to be imported from Russia in 2019 and 2020.