Lady R “panel” appointments by the book – SA Presidency

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, via the Presidency spokesman, poured cold water onto a court attempt by the Democratic Alliance (DA) to challenge his appointment of a retired judge to head the Lady R inquiry.

In a regular media briefing on Ramaphosa’s “engagements”, Vincent Magwenya this week raised nine points. The last one was in response to Glynnis Breytenbach’s lodging of legal papers with the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on the President’s decision to appoint a three-person “independent panel” to investigate the Lady R’s sojourn in Simon’s Town harbour, home port to the SA Navy (SAN) fleet, last December.

Ramaphosa, Magwenya’s statement has it, “decided to appoint the independent panel after having carefully considered the delicate balance that is needed between the public’s right to information and the state’s need to secure information, the disclosure of which may jeopardise our national security and/or international relations”. This is why South Africa found itself with an “independent panel rather than a commission of inquiry”.

When the Presidential spin doctor announced the appointment of retired judge Phineas Mojapelo with Advocate Leah Gcabashe SC and former deputy minister of basic education Enver Surty in May he used “judicial commission of inquiry”.

A Johannesburg-based daily newspaper and its website on Tuesday informed readers of shadow justice minister Breytenbach’s decision to go the legal route on the Lady R report. The former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) senior prosecutor maintains Mojapelo’s appointment was “incompatible with judicial office”. She stressed the court application was “principled” and not because the three-person panel was “part of any form of cover-up”.

Addressing media in Pretoria this week, Magwenya said Ramaphosa carefully considered his decision to appoint a judge to head the panel. “President Ramaphosa acted within the law in doing so and we are confident that this appointment will withstand scrutiny”.

He added the legal route chosen by the official Parliamentary opposition was “politically motivated”, with the DA “failing to appreciate the damage this issue has caused to our economy and potentially, to very important diplomatic relations, which are now repaired as a result of the level of credibility attached to the panel and its work, the outcome of the investigation and the intensive amount of diplomatic work that has been conducted to date and is still being managed”.

Other issues raised by the Presidency spokesman were progress on government/business collaboration; the death of Zoleka Mandela; condolences to victims of Western Cape floods and thanks to rescue teams; the inaugural South Africa/Lesotho binational commission; South Africa’s Special Olympics team; acceptance of “letters of credence” from Heads of Mission designate; the Border Management Authority’s (BMA’s) October launch and Ramaphosa “assenting” to four “important acts”.