Questions still abound around Lady R

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An executive summary of the Lady R “independent investigation” raises more questions than answers, two opposition parliamentarians maintain.

Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald was “sceptical” of the summary, even before its release on Tuesday. “It will probably be more a cover-up than an honest attempt to inform the public of actual events,” he said.

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais waded into the summary calling it “very limited” and leaving doubt about the “instructions” given to retired judge Phineas Mojapelo and his panel.

“If nothing was loaded, why all the secrecy and why did government refuse to talk about it for nine months?” he asked, answering himself with another question – “did he (President Cyril Ramaphosa) decide to mislead South Africa?”

He goes further, asking if the President was misled or did the panel “come to the wrong conclusion”?

“South Africa needs to know because it will determine government’s credibility as regards the Lady R issue,” he said, adding the summary does not provide any reason for the full report not to be released “albeit to a closed parliamentary committee”.

“The outcome of the panel is what government claimed to be ‘their’ truth,” according to Marais who, speaking on behalf of the DA, said the report “is not accepted as well as its credibility, based on a flawed summary”.

On a lighter note, he has it the report’s so-called “standard practice to unload weapons under cover of darkness” is “hilarious”.

For example, the SA Air Force took delivery of its Swedish Gripen jet fighters from ships in Cape Town harbour with the first two unloaded and moved by road to Air Force Base (AFB) Ysterplaat during daylight in February 2010.

African Defence Review (ADR) Director Darren Olivier said the belated release of the Lady R inquiry summary “raises more questions than it answers and I don’t believe we can reasonably say the matter has been closed and settled.”

He points to the summary failing to specify the date on which the panel was set up or any information about its terms of reference, “so we don’t know what the panel looked at and what it didn’t look at.”

It is believed the Lady R delivered small arms ammunition for the SA Special Forces, as hinted at by Defence Minister Thandi Modise, “but the panel is not willing to confirm even that. It’s a ridiculous level of over-classification and an obsession with secrecy,” he maintains. 

Olivier finds it “difficult to take the panel’s findings seriously” when it accepts the “ridiculous” explanation that the Lady R turned off its transponder to avoid being tracked by foreign intelligence agencies. “Did anyone really think just disabling the transponder would prevent foreign intel agencies from tracking it?… It doesn’t appear they attempted to interrogate the explanation further.”

All in all, it’s an executive summary “frustratingly short of answers and one which will not reassure the public all was handled the way it should have been,” Olivier said. “I still think the report is broadly accurate in that there were no weapons loaded. I’ve always said it wasn’t the likely explanation. But the South African government is its own worst enemy in its bungled handling of this incident and it’s not getting better.”