“Tell us what was loaded on the Lady R” – OUTA

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The war of words around Lady R and her supposed South African arms/weapons cargo generated comment and response from academics, civil society, politicians and others with probably the most objective coming from the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA).

The Randburg-headquartered civil society organisation, originally formed to end tolling on certain Gauteng highways, said South African citizens have a right to know what “our government supplies to foreign countries”. As far as can be ascertained this is the first time OUTA has involved itself in defence matters.

“There is no need for an enquiry [as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa] at this stage. We want absolute transparency. This is not rocket science. The authorities need to tell us if anyone in government authorised the loading and supply of whatever it was onto the Lady R and, if so, whether the inventory included armaments and/or ammunition,” OUTA Chief Executive Wayne Duvenage is on record as saying.

Reacting to the demarche Minister Naledi Pandor’s International Relations and Co-operation Department issued to United States (US) Ambassador in South Africa, Reuben Brigety, a statement has it the diplomat “admitted he crossed the line” and “apologised unreservedly”. This after he was summonsed by South Africa’s international relations number one regarding remarks he made about South African weapons allegedly loaded on the Russian cargo vessel Lady R in Simon’s Town in December 2022 after she apparently unloaded Russian military equipment ordered by South Africa prior to the declaration of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais, still unanswered by Minister Thandi Modise on the Lady R and her cargo in letters and Parliamentary questions, maintains Ramaphosa has to remove Modise. He has it Modise’s “unresponsiveness to my probing questions and desperate requests for clarity make it clear she knew what was going on and has since tried to cover it up – she must go”.

Another addition to the Lady R comment list was Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), by way of a three-page statement. It included a reference to the Lady R by way of stating its arrival at Naval Base (NB) Simon’s Town was “consistent with international best practice” and that the US “has absolutely no right and permission to interfere with South Africa’s sovereign right to determine who she trades with and who her friends are”.

The statement further calls for the immediate dismissal of the US Ambassador from South Africa for his “unbecoming, undiplomatic and outrightly irresponsible approach to diplomatic relations”.

There is still no indication from the South African Presidency which retired judge will head the Lady R enquiry announced last week by Ramaphosa or what its terms of reference will encompass.

The enquiry “will allow for facts to be established and for role players to be identified. Anyone found to have broken the law will face severe consequences,” the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) said on Friday.

According to DIRCO, South Africa is known globally for having one of the most stringent processes when selling arms to other countries. The process is managed by the National Convention Arms Control Committee (NCACC), which said it has no record of selling any equipment to Russia in the last three years. Similarly, Denel and Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) denied selling anything to Russia.

African Defence Review (ADR) Director Darren Olivier said he does not know for sure whether anything was loaded onto the Lady R, “but as citizens we deserve an explanation for the bizarre secrecy and unusual actions taken around it and proof everything was above board.”

He asked why it was necessary to be so secretive about a shipment of small arms ammunition rounds, likely 7.62mm, for the Special Forces, as Modise in December said the Lady R was in Simons Town to deliver. “We know they use that calibre and while a delivery from Russia is controversial it would’ve had to be reported as per the Arms Trade Treaty anyway.”

“It’s now clear the US formally raised this issue with South Africa months ago, in February, but government dragged its feet and stonewalled ever since. Is there any surprise then that it has now blown up into a foreign policy crisis and disaster? One more thing, when one of your main trading partners confronts you like this and speaks of the loss of preferential trade terms, it’s wise to rush to reassure them. If China accused us of selling arms to Taiwan, with whom China insisted we cut ties, do you think we’d ignore it?” Olivier asked.

Ramaphosa in his weekly newsletter to the nation reiterated South Africa’s stance that the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine be resolved through negotiation and peaceful means.

“Consistent with our stance on conflicts in other parts of the world, South Africa’s view is that the international community needs to work together to urgently achieve a cessation of hostilities and prevent further loss of life and displacement of civilians in Ukraine. It needs to support meaningful dialogue toward a lasting peace, which ensures the security and stability of all nations.

“As a country, we are committed to the articles of the United Nations (UN) Charter, including the principle that all members shall settle international disputes by peaceful means. We support the principle that members should refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of other States.

“Our position seeks to contribute to the creation of conditions that make the achievement of a durable resolution of the conflict possible. The reality is the Russia-Ukraine conflict – and the tensions that underlie it – will not be resolved through military means. It needs to be resolved politically,” Ramaphosa said.

The South African President emphasised government’s stance of non-alignment does not “favour Russia above other countries. Nor do we accept that it should imperil our relations with other countries”.

“South Africa is a sovereign state, governed by a democratic Constitution and committed to the consistent application of international law. We will continue to fulfil our obligations in terms of various international agreements and treaties to which we are signatories,” he wrote.