Secrecy around Lady R inquiry raises questions

2024

The judicial investigation into the Russian cargo vessel Lady R and her clandestine stop at Naval Base (NB) Simon’s Town is seen as a security issue and the panel’s report will not be publicly available.

TimesLive quoted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman Vincent Magwenya as saying the investigation is not a commission of inquiry and its work will not be public, nor will its report be released publicly. “The investigation covers issues of national security and classified information, which is protected from disclosure,” Magwenya is quoted as saying.

The investigation is being led by retired judge Phineas Mojapelo, who will not have the power to summons witnesses or call for documents but it will be supported by letters from the president instructing government entities to cooperate or face sanctions, Magwenya is reported as saying by TimesLive.

The official opposition’s ire was raised by the reports with Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen leading the charge.

“Hiding the findings of the report will only further damage South Africa’s international standing, as it will create legitimate fears of a cover-up. The fact that Ramaphosa has suddenly announced his intention to hide the report from the public suggests he has already become aware of incriminating information he wants to hide from public view to protect his government.

“Hiding the truth about government’s alleged involvement in smuggling arms to Russia will lead to further economic suffering. Investors will shun South Africa, the Rand will fall further as inflation spirals and 100 000 jobs could be lost if we are kicked out of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA),” a party statement has him saying, with the rider the DA will not leave “this secrecy unchallenged”.

In this regard Kobus Marais, DA shadow defence and military veterans minister, submitted a PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act) request to Thandi Modise’s ministry before the judicial inquiry was made known, in what was called by some observers “a say nothing statement”.  Marais told defenceWeb his application was confirmed and registered by the Department of Defence (DoD).

At the same time the DA is seeking legal advice to challenge what Steenhuisen called “Ramaphosa’s plan to hide the report once complete”.

“Hiding this report from public view will rob the people of South Africa – and the world – of the opportunity to see the full facts of this matter,” is his take on keeping the Mojapelo inquiry under lock and key.

Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald warned when the investigation was made known it should be concerned with, among others, “making ordinary officials scapegoats allowing politicians to get off scot-free”. He urged the investigation to “pay special attention to the political approval needed for arms deals of this nature” referring to the alleged loading of unspecified South African defence materiel in the home port of the SA Navy (SAN) fleet.

The Lady R ported in the naval base harbour in mid-December and was spotted unloading unidentified cargo, later said by some but not confirmed to be Russian small arms ammunition destined for SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Special Forces. The Russian cargo vessel, sanctioned by the United States (US) following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, apparently loaded as yet unidentified cargo before raising anchor and transiting up the South African and African east coast.