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Panel finds no evidence of arms loaded on to Lady R, claims Ramaphosa – but will still keep the full report secret

Panel finds no evidence of arms loaded on to Lady R, claims Ramaphosa – but will still keep the full report secret
Russian cargo ship Lady R leaves Simonstown harbour . Photo:Supplied

An independent panel has found no evidence that weapons were loaded on to the Russian cargo vessel the Lady R, President Cyril Ramaphosa said. But the panel’s report won’t be released to the public, he added.

The panel tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the docking of the Lady R in Simon’s Town last December has found no evidence to support the allegations that weapons were loaded on to the vessel destined for Russia, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday. 

The President was addressing the nation on the outcomes of the 15th BRICS Summit and the findings of the independent panel appointed to investigate the allegations that the US-sanctioned Russian cargo ship Lady R uploaded arms for Russia at the Simon’s Town Naval Base.

“From its investigation, the panel found no evidence that any cargo of weapons was loaded for export on to the ship Lady R,” Ramaphosa said. 

When all matters are considered, none of the allegations made about the supply of weapons to Russia have been proven to be true, and none of the persons who made these allegations could provide any evidence to support the claims that had been levelled against our country,” he continued.

Ramaphosa said he would not release the report in light of “the fact that the evidence given to the panel was classified and the fact that revealing the details of the equipment offloaded could jeopardise the work and safety of South Africa’s forces in various deployments on the continent”. 

However, the panel had provided him with a summary of the report, which he said would be released publicly on Monday. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Lady R in South Africa 

In May, the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, dropped a diplomatic bombshell when he said Washington was confident that weapons were loaded on to the Lady R when it docked in Simon’s Town between 6 and 9 December 2022. 

Brigety’s accusations were catalytic and prompted International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor to démarche him. They also sent the rand to three-year lows against the dollar and sparked renewed concerns about South Africa’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) status. 

The President then appointed an independent panel, chaired by the retired Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Johannesburg, Phineas Mojapelo, to investigate the allegations. 

The panel concluded its investigation on 18 July. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Independent panel completes investigation into Lady R’s Simon’s Town sojourn

In recent months, statements from several quarters have used these allegations to call into question South Africa’s commitment to its position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

“The allegations levelled against our country had a damaging effect on our currency, economy and our standing in the world,” said Ramaphosa on Sunday. 

He said that during its investigation, the panel visited Simon’s Town Naval Base and “obtained evidence under oath from nearly 50 people in every relevant component of government”. He added that more than 100 documents were submitted to the panel for review. 

“A number of entities and persons that had publicly claimed to have information on this matter were invited to make submissions to the panel. Many of those invited either failed to do so or said they had no independent knowledge of the relevant facts.”  

The panel concluded that the ship docked in Simon’s Town to “deliver equipment that had been ordered for the South African National Defence Force [SANDF] in 2018 by Armscor, the country’s arms procurement company. 

“In terms of the contract for the supply of the arms, neither Armscor nor the [SANDF] had any control over the means through which the supplier of the ordered equipment would transport them to South Africa,” he said. 

Ramaphosa said that all relevant permits had been obtained for the importation of the equipment that Lady R had delivered.

“No permit was issued for the export of arms and no arms were exported,” he said.

Ramaphosa said that the panel did not find any evidence of criminal conduct by any persons involved. 

“However, the panel made findings and recommendations with respect to the functioning of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee. It also made recommendations about the improvement of communication between ministers and government officials, including the adequacy of the relevant administrative processes.”

Noting the panel’s findings and recommendations regarding the “efficiency and efficacy of the relevant administrative and maritime transport processes”, Ramaphosa said an implementation plan would be developed to address these.  

BRICS Summit outcomes

Reflecting on the 15th BRICS Summit, held in Sandton from 22 to 24 August, the President said that, in many ways, the “historic” summit “heralded a new chapter for BRICS”.

The summit was attended by Brazil’s President Lula da Silva, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend in person, as he is under a warrant of arrest from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.) 

In addition to the BRICS countries, the summit was attended by representatives of 61 other countries — 46 from Africa, according to Ramaphosa. This included 20 heads of state and government, he said.  

“The BRICS Summit made several decisions to take forward the struggle for a fairer and more inclusive world order that is focused on the equal development of all peoples,” Ramaphosa said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the nation on the 15th BRICS Summit and the investigation into the Russian ship that docked at Simon’s Town, Cape Town. (Screenshot: Twitter / @CyrilRamaphosa | Image sharpened with AI)

Among the key decisions taken by the BRICS countries, “was to support the call for a comprehensive reform of the United Nations, including its Security Council, with a view to making it more democratic, representative, effective and efficient.”

The summit said that “there should be greater representation of developing economy countries in the United Nations Security Council’s membership. This is so that countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America, including Brazil, India and South Africa, can play a greater role in international affairs.”

Ramaphosa described this as “a most significant decision”, because it was supported by two BRICS members who are permanent members of the UN Security Council China and Russia. 

He added that the reform of the UN was important for South Africa and the continent because, “We stand to benefit from a world that is more fair, and from international institutions that are more democratic and more representative.”

The 15th BRICS Summit ended with the BRICS bloc of emerging nations agreeing to expand the alliance by inviting six new countries to join which Ramaphosa said was another significant outcome. Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia will join the bloc in January 2024.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Key takeaways from 15th BRICS Summit – and the human rights alarm bell ringing over bloc’s new members

“BRICS leaders agreed that the value of BRICS extends beyond the interest of the current members. They agreed that BRICS could be more effective and have a greater impact by building partnerships with other countries that share its aspirations and perspectives,” Ramaphosa said. 

“Through an expanded BRICS we will be able to better align the voices of those countries that seek a fairer global governance, financial investment and trading system based on clear rules that apply equally to all countries. An expanded BRICS also means that we will be able to export more of our products to major markets, and as a result we’ll be able to produce more and create more jobs,” he continued.  

Twenty-two countries had formally applied to join BRICS, and wrangling over which to admit, delayed by a day the release of the 94-point Johannesburg Declaration and the announcement of the new members. 

Ramaphosa said the other countries that had applied or indicated a desire to join BRICS would be considered in the next phase. 

He said South Africa had already “achieved great benefit” from its relations with the current BRICS members and stood to benefit from its relationship with the new members. 

“These countries are important destinations for South Africa’s products and services. They are also important sources of investment, and are becoming even more important as tourism markets,” he said of the current five nations. 

“We are looking forward to establishing similar links and strengthening the political and economic ties with the countries that will soon be joining BRICS.”

The President added that South Africa’s participation in BRICS and support for the bloc’s expansion “does not detract from the good and strategic relations we have with many other countries, and trading blocs around the world. 

“We have never aligned ourselves with any one global power or bloc of countries. Our non-aligned approach has enabled us to pursue an independent foreign policy and to forge our own developmental past.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    How can you tell the president is lying? He opens his mouth

  • Chris Lee says:

    Better to say nothing at all than open his mouth and spout this guff.

  • Johann Olivier says:

    Well … that’s a relief. Now we know. The government says so. Sorted. Phew.

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    Well, Mr President, what was loaded onto the Lady R in the middle of the night?

    • Johan Buys says:

      Biltong, marmite, Mrs Balls chutney, Rooibos tea, some choice wines and brandy?

      It remains a mystery where putin is getting 155mm howitzer ammunition from, as it did not come from the plant that manufactures this near Simons Town.

  • james davis Davis says:

    So what was loaded if not arms?

  • Bewe 1414 says:

    Maybe its parts for Zircon…

  • Steve Broekmann says:

    From the language used it is clear that the government is hiding something more than merely the nature of the what was landed. They “found no evidence” of weapon being loaded – but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Indeed, in clandestine operations the discovery of evidence would have been surprising. “Cargo of weapons” – why not just “weapons” or better, “military-related goods”? What is a “cargo of weapons” as opposed to “weapons” without the qualification of “cargo”? And what is the difference between “loaded for export” and just plain “loaded”?

    The rest of the statement raises similar questions:-

    “When all matters are considered, none of the allegations made about the supply of weapons to Russia have (sic) been proven to be true, and none of the persons who made these allegations could provide any evidence to support the claims that had been levelled against our country,”

    The allegations might not have been “proven”, but Ramaphosa is careful not to say explicitly that they were proven false. One is left with the impression that Brigety was probably right and that the Americans know it. Whether they will accept SA’s obfuscation will depend on their assessment of its usefulness in Africa weighed against its unfortunate anti-American posturing via BRICS and ill-conceived actions such as joint naval exercises with Russia and China.

  • Joe Irwin says:

    It’s got to the point that anything we hear from the president and his cabinet ministers can be believed.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    If he was prepared to divulge what was loaded off the ship, why no mention of what was loaded on? We are not stupid. russia is battling sanctions and is using WWII weapons against some high tech weapons supplied to Ukraine. Computer chips for drones would be obvious but we are left guessing. But it was certainly something desperately needed by russia. The fact that the ship turned off its AIS and then turned around and then loaded cargo in the middle of the night makes the whole saga very suspicious.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Bold of him to think anyone believes this tripe, nothing about what was loaded.

  • Cornay Bester says:

    It took four years for Russia to deliver 2nd rate weapons to us?
    Did we sell the russians toilet brushes and they’re all embarrassed now? A life support system for Putin? Or couches full of dollars?
    Generally foodstuffs are never classified and secret.
    Too many questions and a president who treat us like children.

  • james davis Davis says:

    You omit to mention that Reuben Brigety was so confident that weapons were loaded that he “bet his life” on it. He must now do the honorable thing and either commit Hari–Kari or else produce the evidence, presumably from the CIA, to back up his claim.

    • Malcolm Mitchell says:

      Surely you realise James that an ambassador would not make a statement such as this without the backing of his government.
      Do you believe the beleaguered ANC’s word on this matter, especially when the report is not to be released!!

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    Well it looks like nobody believes what the Pres is saying. I wonder why?
    I did some research and found the following:
    Just so happens to be that there is a company called Rhenmetal Denel Munitions in Somerset West that manufactures artillery shells 105 -155 mm and mortor rounds 60, 80 & 120 mm. They claim, proudly, that their artillery shells have set world records of up to 76 kms! Just what Russia would love.
    They also have a branch at Krantzkop in Wellington in the Cape that manufactures chemicals for missile propellants. I am sure the Ruskies would be interested in that as well???? Could be just coincidence but Simonstown would be a very convenient harbour to load either shells or chemicals or both. Just saying.

  • Andrew Newman says:

    The inquiry was a chance for South Africa to come clean.
    Will the US present it’s evidence soon?

  • Hidden Name says:

    Oh come on – thats obvious nonsense. How on earth is listing the cargo going to risk lives?

  • Hidden Name says:

    Also – did no one else find the coincidence of the ANC suddenly having funds to host their big “event” in December when they had been battling to pay salaries prior to that? Strange right?

  • Rama Chandra says:

    It’ is easy not to find something, if you know where not to look. Also the accusations were not “against South Africa” but against corruption in South Africa. The fact the ANC conflates the two is indicative of their positioning. I presume the judge is corrupt, which makes one wonder why Dear Leader would bother summarising the summary before the full summary is released. Is he needing to spin it still?

  • David Mark says:

    Do they define what they interpret as “arms” in their report? If not, then hmmmmm….

  • Impie Mann says:

    Only people who have been “dumbed down” by the ANC’s education system over the past 30 years, might possibly believe Ramaphosa’s nonsense spin. He is a consummate liar.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    Ramaphosa fudging the truth again. If there was nothing to hide the details should be brought into the open, otherwise nobody will believe what he is saying, especially as he is not saying what was loaded onto the ship. What was offloaded is not really important, what was loaded onto the ship is important

  • Hermann Funk says:

    If Ramaphosa loses the next election, he can make a good income as a fiction writer.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Let’s be honest,the ANC is bullshitting criminals,nothing more

  • Kagisho Kgaile says:

    The folk that say they have evidence need to share it. Let us draw our own conclusions.

    • Steve Broekmann says:

      Why do they “need” to share it? To prove Cyril is fudging? He and the US both know the truth. What Brigety said was a warning shot across the bows of the ANC

  • Interested Observer says:

    Blah blah blah blah
    Blah blah blah blah

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