PORT IN AN INTERNATIONAL STORM
Ramaphosa appoints Judge Mojapelo to chair inquiry into Russian ship Lady R
The President has given an independent panel six weeks to complete an investigation into arms allegations about the Russian cargo vessel, the Lady R.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday 28 May announced the three-member panel tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the docking of the Lady R in Simon’s Town, in December 2022.
The President has decided on a panel chaired by former Supreme Court Judge Phineas Mojapelo, and featuring Advocate Leah Gcabashe SC, and former deputy minister of basic education Enver Surty.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Lady R in South Africa
The panel will finalise its investigation within six weeks of its appointment and will be expected to submit its reports to the President within two weeks of concluding its work, according to a statement by the Presidency.
However, it may “request an extension of this time frame should it be necessary”.
President @CyrilRamaphosa has appointed a three-member independent panel to enquire into the circumstances of the docking of the Russian vessel known as Lady R in Simonstown, Western Cape, in December 2022. https://t.co/OLIcSD5ao1 pic.twitter.com/J0pRTYeu3h
— Presidency | South Africa 🇿🇦 (@PresidencyZA) May 28, 2023
The Presidency had announced it would set up an independent inquiry to investigate the matter, following the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety’s catalytic accusations earlier this month.
On 11 May, Brigety had told journalists in Pretoria that Washington was confident that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto the Russian cargo vessel Lady R, which docked in Simon’s Town, Cape Town in December 2022.
Brigety said he hoped Pretoria would respond “wholesomely” to the US concerns, so the two countries could focus on strengthening relations, but his accusations have caused a rupture.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Explainer: What we know about the explosive Russian ship scandal so far
Presidency spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya on Sunday said: “Through this inquiry, the government seeks to establish the circumstances that led to the docking of the ship and the alleged loading of cargo, and the departure of the Lady R cargo ship from Simon’s Town, during the period from 6 to 9 December 2022.
“The President decided to establish the inquiry because of the seriousness of the allegations, the extent of public interest and the impact of this matter on South Africa’s international relations,” said Magwenya.
According to the statement, the three-member panel has been tasked with establishing “persons who were aware of the cargo’s arrival, and – if any – the contents to be off-loaded or loaded”, as well as the departure and destination of the cargo.
“Furthermore, the panel will evaluate whether constitutional, legal or other obligations were complied with in relation to the cargo ship’s arrival, its stay, the loading or offloading of its contents, and its departure.”
The panel will report directly to Ramaphosa and its report will include recommendations on any steps that may need to be taken in light of their findings “or as a result of any breaches that may have occurred”.
Daily Maverick reached out to David S Feldmann, spokesperson for the US embassy in Pretoria, for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. Daily Maverick also contacted Ukrainian Ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. DM